After a record breaking weekend in Crawfordsville, Ind. at the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament, the University of Indianapolis men’s and women’s swimming and diving team brought home first and second place, respectively. The men’s accomplishment garnered them the only ever first place victory at the GLVC tournament in program history, while the women placed the highest in five years.
Drury University was one team that stood in the Hounds’ way of placing on top in the past few years. This season, the team was prepared and ready to take on Drury as well as other opponents, according to Head Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Coach Jason Hite.
“The main focus wasn’t winning it, to be honest with you,” Hite said. “It was making sure that we made as many qualifying times for nationals and it was giving everyone their best opportunity to give their best performances of the year, whether that’s on the board for the divers or off the blocks for the swimmers. So for me, the winning is a result of our preparation. It is a result of our energy and the togetherness that we had as we approached the meet. It was an amazing thing to watch our group be as one and everybody took care of what they were supposed to take care of, but they also supported each other, and I think the loudest team on deck which made it a lot of fun.”
The Hounds also set six conference records at the meet and earned five major awards. The team swept the men’s awards, with freshman Hector Gomez Diez as Freshman of the Year, junior Rodrigo Codo Berti as Swimmer of the Year, sophomore Josh Zylstra as Diver of the Year and Head Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Coach Jason Hite as Coach of the Year. On the women’s side, freshman Cassie Kury received Diver of the Year.
Hite said that the awards were due to the amount of energy and focus that the team has had over the year, and each of the winners were a major asset to the team. Zylstra won the Diver of the Year award last year, being the only Hound to take home a major award two years in a row. Hite said that Zylstra has a great coach in Men’s and Women’s Diving Coach Dave Mckown who has helped him, and the rest of the diving side develop tremendously.
“Josh is just a workhorse. He’s got a teammate in [sophomore] Payton Staman who is right behind him. If Josh has one dive that’s not as good and Payton has one that’s a little bit better than those are reversed,” Hite said. “I think that’s just what you have when you have someone like that who is always pushing you.”
Along with the Swimmer of the Year award, Berti broke three GLVC records, two UIndy records, won three individual gold medals, added to two relay wins as well as being voted the DII National Swimmer of the Week.
“It [Rodrigo’s accomplishments at conference] just says how versatile he is. He wasn’t even rested for this meet. That just shows what kind of talent that he is,” Hite said. “The competition is getting harder and harder every year and he has risen up to that.”
According to Hite, Diez and Kury have both made a great impact as freshman on the team, but the real test will be seeing them in nationals. As for the Coach of the Year award, he said that award is more about the effort that the team put.
Berti said that Hite’s work with the team put them at the level that they are today.
“I think the Coach of the Year award is just about the work that Jason did with us throughout the season until now,” Berti said. “When I first came here my freshman year, I talked to Jason about the swimming team and the program and he said to me that the swimming program was going to go really high someday. We could see it. Two years ago we got third [at conference] on the men’s side, last year we got third and now this year we are third in the nation, and we won conference.”
With multiple individual wins, as well as the overall team accomplishments, Hite said that the recruiting that has occurred in the past three years he has been the coach has put the team at a much more competitive level. He said the captains have dictated the energy and positivity on the team, and it showed with the support that the team had for each individual during the conference tournament.
“There’s a different aura about a person who swims and a swimmer, and I think we have more swimmers,” Hite said. “I think this is a very intelligent group. Our men’s team has the third highest GPA out of all DII men’s swimming and diving programs in the country. So you’re not only talking about a fast group but you’re talking about a smart group. And a hard working group. And it’s their choice to work together and put aside any differences, or where they are from because they’re all Hounds. That’s the pretty neat thing about this group.”
Despite the accolade of winning conference, Hite said that the focus is on nationals, starting on March 14. After the men placing 10th and the women in 31st last season, Hite’s goal is for the team to get top three and top ten, respectively.
“When you win, and you have to perform and win to beat other stiff competition. I think it sets us up for a good environment and energy going into nationals. As far as exceptions in placing, we would love to bring home some hardware from nationals,” Hite said. “That’s reasonable for us to do. We have relays on the men’s side that could all be top five. And we have incredible individuals who can score really high in multiple events and then we have a supporting cast of a couple divers who will rock on the board… What we can control, we will control and we will let the points fall where they may.”
Hite has been working with much of the team for the past three years, and said that having a core team that knows how to work together well allows the team to increasingly improve each year.
“These guys are getting more and more used to each other. They know each other better as just human beings, they’ve grown together,” Hite said. “Last year [at nationals] it was ‘Can we break through?’ and this year it is ‘We know we belong.’ People are watching us, we aren’t watching other people. People know what UIndy is and the presence that they are and that they are a definite contender. There is just a different mentality that is hard to establish in three years.”
Berti said that he is hoping to install a good mindset in the team to have fun and not be too stressed in nationals.
“Last year when we got there [nationals] we knew we were in the top five or top eight and I don’t know what happened, I think that we just think that we were so nervous about the situation to make the top eight but this year we learned more about it, and just how to be more natural in the water,” Berti said. “So we don’t put so much pressure on ourselves… the environment already puts so much pressure on you, just being there. But if you just put more pressure it’s going to be overwhelming. Just take it easy, no worries.”