PHOENIX – With their 2020-21 season disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the ASU swim and dive teams are focusing on how they can best prepare for the 2021-22 season. So far, coaches are enthusiastic about what they’ve seen.
“We are just concerned about trying to get back to a fitness level after having really missed an unprecedented amount of time in the summer,” coach Bob Bowman said. “We’re gonna have a long build up, a long developmental period through the end of this year, and then start looking towards maybe some outside USA swimming competition or local competitions and getting into that mode after the first year. But, I think the main difference is the first semester we really are just concentrating on training.”
The decision was made in July that the entire swim and dive team should redshirt this season, so none of the athletes will lose a year of eligibility. In addition to using this semester to improve their fitness, the athletes also are focusing more on improving their techniques, rather than swim times, which coaches believe will make them better next season.
“One of the things we knew would be a factor when we started back was that it’s not like a normal year where everybody just starts on the first day of practice, because there are a lot of factors that go into them getting cleared to participate,” Bowman said. “We actually have some athletes that are not yet cleared to participate due to a number of different reasons.”
Coach Rachel Stratton-Mills also believes this extra time is paying off as improvement is already noticeable, and she said she is happy to see that athletes are now focusing on fixing minor details rather than just swimming faster.
“I don’t know if it’s because they don’t have the pressure of meets, or is it because they kind of had the sport taken away a little from them over the quarantine,” she said. “Obviously, when you take something away and it’s out of their control, and they’ve missed it, whatever it is, (everybody) whatever path they’re on, it’s really making a lot of great technical changes. It’s very focused.
“We just try to stay focused on that, the process of getting better, and everyone can do that no matter what their best time is. Everyone who is here wants to be great and wants to get better so we just focus on that for every athlete.”
Athletes are focusing on small details like the angle of their arm in a stroke, breathing and head movement techniques, and even the positioning of their footwork.
“Those are things that we are always trying to fix,” Stratton-Mills said. “I think there is something about this year and not feeling like we have to be up on full-speed racing that is allowing the athletes to just take a deep breath and say, ‘It’s OK, I can fix it.'”
Feeling like a team and having the athletes bond are also important challenges the coaches are facing. With meets canceled, swimmers and divers don’t have the same opportunity as previous years, where athletes could bond with each other at events and feel like one big family.
“I think some of the things I’m trying to do differently aren’t necessarily in the water. Making them feel like they are connected to the team,” Stratton-Mills said. “We don’t have relays that you can cheer with normally at meets so that’s what I’m trying to make sure we connect everybody.
“The team has a zoom meeting regularly. We did some activities with the women to get them to connect. I actually had all the women do a little zoom slideshow of five minutes explaining yourself through pictures to everybody on the team and just trying to do things like that to help them connect. The things that would normally connect them, traveling to meets and competitions, we don’t have, so it is challenging.”
Jack Dolan, PAC-12 freshman swimmer of the year after scoring the most points by any freshman at the 2020 PAC-12 championships, said it has been harder to stay focused this year.
“The team has done a really good job at keeping everybody on track, and the coaches, too. Making sure we are staying motivated,” Dolan said. “We have done things to sort of minimize the lack of competition, which I think is going to be good for us.”
Bowman has high hopes for next season.
“I am very pleased that we are gonna be able to take a very talented senior class from this year and combine it with the incoming freshman class of 2021, and that really is a great combination for us in terms of concentrating talent to try and make our team move up in the world,” Bowman said. “I think that’s a very good thing and I’m very excited about that.”