Guided by senior leadership, work ethic, swimmers poised to deliver title for Texas

Elijah Perez

In a year that has seen many underwhelming performances from several of Texas’ top squads, Longhorn fans may be tempted to judge 2011 as a “down” year. From the recent and unceremonious early exit of a talented, yet underachieving men’s basketball team from the NCAA tournament; to the pedestrian finish of a well-coached yet, at times, poorly led football team; to a rocky start from a baseball team touted as a preseason favorite, the season in review for the Longhorns from the perspective of Texas fans may be tinted gray by a foreboding cloud of disappointment.

Emerging from the haze of a lackluster year for Texas athletics comes men’s swimming and diving, ready to cap off a fantastic season with a top flight performance at the NCAA championships and deliver a much needed boost for Longhorn morale.

Coming off of a regular season that saw the Longhorns rack up victories in dual matches against the likes of No. 22 SMU, No. 18 Texas A&M and No. 8 Auburn, this Texas squad has certainly earned their second ranked status in the country.

Head coach Eddie Reese points to an increased fitness level and strong team effort in preparation for a valiant finish at the end of the season as the reasons for the Longhorns success in the pool this year.

“Being the training period before the Olympic trials, I’ve worked them harder and had more demanding workouts. They’ve done them better than any team I’ve ever had.

Though many Texas swimmers have been vying for spots on the U.S. national squad for this year’s Olympics in London, which coach Reese will also lead, the team has kept their sights on delivering a superb season and a national title for Texas, what would be the 11th under coach Reese’s reign.

“We’ve been focused on the quest of having a very successful NCAA showing. That seems to be where everyone’s mind is,” Reese said.

Reese has been quick to point out the leadership provided by a stellar senior class as crucial to the team’s chemistry and collective effort.

“You hear a lot of talk about team chemistry. Coaches can’t really influence it a whole lot. The guys on the team and their leadership do … your upperclassmen are always the leaders in that respect.”

Indeed, Texas has benefited from strong performances from the likes of seniors Jimmy Feigen, a 17-time All-American who will compete in six more events this year, Jackson Wilcox, a four-time Big 12 champion in the 500 freestyle, and divers Drew Livingston and Matt Cooper, who claimed titles at the Big 12 Championships and qualified for the NCAA Championships in dominating style at the Zone D Diving qualifying meet two weeks ago.

Still, the team’s mentality and desire to outperform expectations are what coach Reese has most admired about this year’s squad.

“I don’t have to push them a whole lot. I give them tough workouts and they do them better than I would ask … I think that’s just the way the team is,” he said.

This striking instinct coupled with a dynamic crop of experienced veterans have created a truly effective bunch of athletes this year for Texas.

Where some of the more recognizable teams on campus have faltered, the swimmers and divers are putting themselves in fine position to make this season for Texas athletics one for fans to be proud of and rally behind.

Printed on Thursday, March 22, 2012 as: Swimmers and divers ready to compete for another title