UCLA swim and dive builds relationships, finds strength in season certainty
Following a condensed 2020-2021 season filled with COVID-19 protocols, UCLA swim and dive will have a longer schedule with more traditionally structured meets this season. (Courtesy of Jesus Ramirez/UCLA Athletics)
By Kyle Boal
Oct. 14, 2021 3:52 p.m.
This post was updated Oct. 18 at 1:29 a.m.
Last season was filled with protocols, social distancing and schedule alterations.
This season, things are so much more fun, according to coach Jordan Wolfrum.
After completing a shortened December to March 2020-2021 season, UCLA swim and dive returned to the pool for its first official team competition this season, placing third in the Fresno State Invitational over the weekend.
One of four Bruins to finish in the top five in a race, senior swimmer Abriana Howard said this season has been different from the last season regarding the uncertainty surrounding meets.
“Last year, we were just training, and we didn’t know if we would have a meet,” Howard said. “In the back of our minds, that was definitely there. We were really unsure. So just having the concrete knowledge that we actually have an end goal, I would say, allows us to push even harder in practice and bond together as a team.”
Unable to compete against Stanford because of travel and quarantine restrictions in Santa Clara County, UCLA was forced to split a dual meet with California into two days in January. The nontraditional two-day dual meet format was used in every Bruin meet last season.
Wolfrum said having less concern that competition may be canceled at any moment has allowed her team to focus more on techniques in the pool.
“It’s so much more fun this year,” Wolfrum said. “We get to focus on doing our sport more than the anxiety of making sure we’re doing all our precautions right. We’ve settled into some of those safe habits, but we’re feeling safe enough to be able to focus on the sport again. I think the biggest thing is we have more certainty that the next day is going to happen.”
After beginning practice in the early summer rather than mid-October, UCLA kicked off its season on the opening day in October with its Blue vs. Gold Intrasquad meet – a tradition set aside in 2020.
One of nine seniors on the team, swimmer Delaney Smith said it’s been easier to build relationships with her teammates this season.
“Last year, when we couldn’t get together and do team bonding, it was really hard to get to know the freshmen, it took a lot longer,” Smith said. “This year has been great. During preseason, we got to go on a camping trip and got to know everyone. Fresno – being our first travel meet – was a good bonding time for our team.”
Wolfrum said last season served as a valuable lesson in leadership for her program’s juniors and seniors.
“The struggles that we had as a group last year really developed our upperclassmen in terms of their leadership abilities, their pride in this program and how they operate,” Wolfrum said. “We’ve got what feels like a really strong team culture and also really elite leadership from within our team. When you’ve got such a big young group coming in, that internal leadership is one of the most important aspects.”
UCLA will have roughly 15 more competitions over a five-month span this season, including hosting a home meet with fans for the first time in 616 days against UC Santa Barbara on Oct. 23.
Even with guaranteed competition, Howard said she’s focused most on cherishing moments outside of the pool in her final year as a Bruin.
“I do a good job supporting my teammates, but (this season I want to) just really get behind them,” Howard said. “If they’re going through a tough time, I’ll take them to coffee and really be aware of what’s going on in everyone’s life and really be invested in each individual relationship on the team. Because in the end, that’s what I’ll remember from my time here.”