Freshmen phenoms impress on Day 2 of 2016 Pac-12 Swimming (W) & Diving (M/W) Championships
FEDERAL WAY, Wash. — It was a banner year for recruiting in Pac-12 women’s swimming and diving, with swimmers from all over the country choosing the Conference of Champions. On Thursday night, the freshmen had an impressive showing.
Stanford’s Ella Eastin, Cal’s Kathleen Baker, and USC’s Kirsten Vose finished one-two-three in the women’s 200 yard individual medly on Thursday night, in what was a tight race from start to finish. All three are freshmen.
Eastin and Baker have known each other and have competed against one another for years. That friendship and competitive spirit was a huge positive for the Cardinal.
“I think us swimming next to each other definitely helped us go faster. It’s really nice to have a familiar face right next to me, especially in my first Pac-12's race,” Eastin said with a smile.
Across the conference, schools experienced an influx of new swimmers this fall. USC started the season with 13 new faces on the women’s team. Arizona has the third-ranked incoming freshman class in the country. Pac-12’s recent success on the national stage has helped bring more swimmers out West.
“I think what’s happening is that the conference is doing so well, and we’re really proud of the fact that we are the Conference of Champions, and really good elite-level swimmers and divers want to come to the Pac-12,” explained USC head coach Dave Salo. “We’re fortunate that were one of the schools that they’re starting to congregate to.”
Cal head coach Teri McKeever agrees.
“We’ve been really blessed in this conference that we’ve attracted world-class athletes year after year at lots of different institutions – Stanford, Cal, USC, Arizona. I think the thing that’s pretty cool is that people are all coming in it with different experiences.”
Even though they’re younger, McKeever loves the dynamic that freshmen can help create on a team.
“As a coach, it’s really exciting. When you get the freshmen in, it just gives everybody a lot of energy. I think it holds the upperclassmen accountable. It kind of keeps the balance of the team exciting.”
And for the freshmen, being part of the swimming community provides them with a family atmosphere that they might miss as they head out on their own. It was a big reason why Eastin headed to Stanford.
“I have two incredibly good coaches who are really positive all the time, show up every single day. The same people really want me to do well, in the pool and out of the pool, so I really appreciate that.”
“I think freshman year is a tough year, whether you’re an athlete or not. It’s a tough transition year,” McKeever says. “I think a lot of people really blossom in that – when it’s not just about them, but it’s about doing it for your teammates…it just really creates life-long friendships. I think that’s the wonderful thing about college athletics.”
The Conference of Champions has lived up to it’s name over the last several years in the pool, and this new batch of young swimmers promises to keep that tradition going. Each school getting better will also help Pac-12 women’s swimming across the board.
“The great thing about collegiate swimming is that you develop your team rivalries, and we have a great rivalry with Cal and Stanford, and it’s just a battle every time we see each other," Salo says.
“Even though, many times, they’re all really close friends because they’ve been training with each other sometimes, when they were in high school, and competing against each other for a long time.
They come together here at this meet, and they’re hugging each other before the meet starts, and then they’re rivals when they get up the blocks in the finals. It’s fun to watch them develop that.”
Luckily, Pac-12 gets a front-row seat to those developments, and some fantastic young swimmers.