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Dal swimmers head for unchartered waters

Ready to roar. Photo by Pau Balite

Dalhousie swimming is a big fish in a small pond.

They don’t just win, they crush everyone else.

Both the men’s and women’s teams take home AUS titles year after year. Both teams are constantly ranked in the top 10 schools in the country.

This year was no exception.

The women’s team claimed their 11th consecutive AUS title. At one point the women were ranked third in the country. Heading into the CIS championship, they were ranked seventh.

Meanwhile, the men won their 14th straight AUS banner. For three different weeks Dal’s men’s team was actually ranked first in the country. Entering nationals, the men were seeded fourth.

It looked like this was the year to show everyone else that Dal could be a big fish in the big ocean, too.

Then nationals happened.

The women held their ground, finishing seventh, but the men landed a disappointing sixth in the country.

The men are better than sixth. They could have, and should have, ranked higher. The difference from fifth to sixth place came down to a few hundredths of a second in a few races.

Last week’s announcement that head coach David Fry will retire leaves the swim team in uncertain waters. Fry is one of the country’s best coaches, losing him will be tough on the program.

Next year the team could go either way. They could be placed in a state of precariousness or this could be the opportunity to achieve their potential.

Which direction the team will go can be broken down into four main questions.

The first question that needs to be answered: Who is winning?

“There have only been two teams to ever win CIS in the last 20 years and that’s by no accident,” says Fry. “They have a significant amount of funding from Swimming Canada that nobody else enjoys.”

Photo by Pau Balite

Those two teams, UBC and Calgary, have national training centres which bring a higher caliber of swimmer than Dal can get. This type of program helps both the athletes currently in the program, but also gives them more recruiting power.

“It does have an impact,” says Fry.

If David Sharpe makes the Olympic team, perhaps it will draw Swimming Canada’s attention to the Maritimes and their investment in the team?

But having one Olympian is not the same as multiple. UBC sent four swimmers and two coaches to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Paralympics—Dal sent zero.

The dream of a national training centre run out of the Dalplex may still be far off.

The second question that needs to be answered: How is the team training?

Fourth-year Kit Moran explained that some of their opponents have different hard training and tapering (the rest prior to a major competition) schedules than Dal’s outfit. When one team is tapering and the other is not, the resting team posts better results. When all teams taper, then the rankings are more accurate. Different systems also post stronger results at the end. So if the best teams have a better system of hard training and tapering, why not adopt it?

Moran thinks this system, which involves a longer tapering period before nationals, may work for Dal. “I don’t know if it would work better or worse for us.”

The third question is all about how and when the team is competing.

Currently Dal, unlike teams in other conferences, has a little more than a week between their AUS and CIS tournaments. Fry thinks moving the AUS tournament earlier in the season could improve Dal’s results at nationals. This would allow more time for the swimmers to rest.

Before he announced his retirement, Fry said he would consider recommending the move to the AUS.

Moran also thinks racing against other teams outside the conference would benefit the Tigers; giving Dal a challenge could push them to even greater heights. “I think we would definitely see improvements,” he says. “I don’t want to put down the other teams, but we probably aren’t pushed as much as we should be.”

The final question is a clear one: What will the Tigers do without Fry?

Moran sums it up nicely.

“The team is sad to see Dave go, but at the same time it is kind of exciting to see what new changes will bring,” says Moran. “Dave’s done a lot to build our team into something that really has the ability to go places. I’d like to see a coach that has a vision to carry on what he is doing and make us into a CIS championship team.”

The team is good, but it is time for Dal to be great.

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