Twenty-seven underclassmen look to help the IU men’s swimming and diving team achieve a third consecutive undefeated season.
However, to the team that just means the upperclassmen will be all the more important.
“The staff and I are talking to the seniors about mentoring the new guys and embodying strong leadership,” IU Coach Ray Looze said. “There will be no captains this year to empower the underclassmen to step up, be a leader and feel comfortable contributing.”
While upperclassmen have typically made up the majority of the program, this season will feature a roster of 13 freshmen and 14 sophomores. Together, they will work with the 11 seniors and lone junior toward another undefeated finish and Big Ten Conference and NCAA championships.
“We are doing our best to transform them into our culture and help them perform like they’re veterans,” Looze said. “We don’t want them to feel like they’re rookies; they are one of us.”
The new and returning athletes will look to keep up with the feats accomplished by the swimmers and divers before them over the past few seasons.
In the program’s undefeated 2016-17 season, the team dominated the Big Ten Championships in Columbus, Ohio, taking first place in events like the 200-meter medley, the 800-meter freestyle relays and the 200-meter IM throughout each of the four competition days. Later in the year, the team also competed in the NCAA championships in Indianapolis, placing seventh overall — their best finish since 1979.
This past season, the team retained their undefeated status with a 9-0 record along with placing second at the Purdue Invitational in November.
Combined with the women’s swimming and diving team, the two units tallied eight victories out of the 10 total relays. Additionally, more than half the swimmers and divers on each team achieved their personal best scores.
At the Big Ten Championships in Minneapolis, the men's team took home five titles and 14 gold medals while being crowned with their 26th Big Ten title in the program’s history. Vini Lanza and Michael Hixon each repeated their honors of Swimmer and Diver of the Championships respectively.
IU's team also exceeded their previous performance at the NCAA championships by placing third overall. Only California and Texas had higher scores.
Redshirt senior James Connor, who finished third in the one-meter dive at the tournament, achieved the 10th-best score (440.55) in IU history. For his final year, Connor is looking to take home the title.
“This school has given me an incredible opportunity to build a legacy, and I would like to leave with first instead of third,” Connor said. “Right now, we’re really just focused on team success and enjoyment in and out of the pool.”
With 11 of the team’s members leaving after this year, Looze said he and his staff also have their eyes on the prize.
“I’d like to do something we haven’t done in program history,” Looze said. “We want the third Big Ten title in a row and to continue winning more titles at the national level.”
Before the team sets their sights on capturing more championships in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, staff and players are meeting the new swimmers and divers and getting reacquainted.
“We were and are building a culture of excellence,” Connor said. “That is where I want the focus to be.”