With a new coach, Pat Skehan, the swimming and diving team looks to be a top contender in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference despite having one of the smallest teams in the conference.
Skehan was hired as the swim coach two days before the fall semester began.
“It’s been a great experience, the kids are working hard and the facility is great,” Skehan said.
Skehan spent 22 seasons as the swimming coach at Cal State Bakersfield and looks to bring the same coaching style to La Verne.
“We’re a lot more disciplined this year,” sophomore Marc Okimura said. “We also have a lot more structure.”
Okimura, who has already swum a 58.83 in the 100-yard breaststroke, only 1.02 seconds off his season’s best from last year, is excited to see what a new coach can bring to a young team.
“Pat is very knowledgeable and knows what she is doing,” Okimura said.
The Leopards also welcome another new addition to the team, senior Shane Hurter, who is a transfer student from UC Santa Barbara.
Hurter, who is recovering from shoulder and knee surgery, is focused on finishing his career healthy.
“My main goal for this year is to just enjoy my senior year of eligibility and not worry too much about my times,” Hurter said.
With a small and young men’s team, Skehan is looking for older swimmers like Hurter and seniors Andrew MacKay and Danny Feola to take on leadership roles.
“I’m used to being the younger guy, but coming here and realizing that I’m the older guy, I know I have to set a good example,” Hurter said.
However the women’s team is even smaller and younger.
As a result, young swimmers like freshman Maddie Lovrensky will be looked at to come up big in big events.
Lovrensky has already broken two school records, the 50-yard backstroke, as a member of the 200-yard medley relay team with a 28.56, and the 100-yard backstroke with a 1:01.33.
The swim team has gone through intense training, which might be the boost that this small team needs to compete.
“Last year the training was disappointing,” Okimura said. “But this year we have been doing some pretty intense workouts.”
“I know that this year is harder than last year for them, but the kids jumped right in and are embracing it,” Skehan said.
With only 14 swimmers on the men’s team and nine on the women’s team, Skehan is asking many of her swimmers to compete in various events that they are not accustomed to.
“Everyone’s expecting to mess up, but we all see this as a learning experience,” Skehan said.
“We don’t have the numbers that these other schools have, so what we lack in numbers we have to make up with talent,” Okimura said.
Many swimmers have been asked to change their swims, but Skehan has heard no complaints from her team.
“We’re the quiet team in the conference,” Skehan said. “We’re going to go hard all the way through.”
The last time the Leopards reached the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships was in 2002 and Skehan has a goal set for her team.
“We’re going back, we have our goals high and we want to reach the moon,” Skehan said.
“We’re sacrificing it all for the end.”
The team’s mentality is simple, to be a team.
“Swimming is more than an individual sport, it’s a team sport more than anything,” Okimura said. “It’s a team sport outside of the water.”
The Leopards have competed in two SCIAC meets, falling to Redlands on Dec. 2 and Cal Lutheran on Saturday.
La Verne will take to the pool again today through Sunday at the Finis Collegiate Invitational.
The Leopards will not race again until SCIAC action continues on Jan. 7 at Occidental before they return home on Jan. 14 to host Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
Christian Orozco can be reached at email@example.com.