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Making Waves in the Pac-12

Dec 14, 2021

At the 2019 Pac-12 Championships, Mackenzie Duarte competed in the 100 breaststroke and 'according to her, "did not swim as well as I hoped."

"I was pretty upset," Duarte said. "I was in my head and shed a few tears."

The next morning, prior to the 200 breaststroke, Duarte remembered a teammate coming up to her saying, "You got this." 

"I get in the blocks, dive in and go."

In the pool, Duarte knew something special was happening.

"The last few strokes, I'm not even tired," she said. "I remember getting out of the water and seeing my teammates and coaches cheering."

Duarte finished with the NCAA qualifying time of 2:09.47, becoming the first Cougar to qualify for the NCAA Championships in nearly a decade.

The following year at the 2020 Pac-12 Championships, Chloe Larson, too, made history when she won the 50 freestyle, becoming the program's first conference individual champion.

"Leading up to race, I had swum my best time in the morning," Larson remembered of race day. "I knew I could do something really special that night. I had a really good warm up and had a sense of calm. I knew something great was going to happen. It was such a great feeling."

The successes of Duarte and Larson are two examples of the Cougar swimming program making a mark in the Pac-12 and nationally. 

"That's what we based our entire program around family," Head Coach Matt Leach said.  "The way we want to build this program around is family. It's based on communication, the bond with each other and picking people up. We've been trying to build that since I've been here on day one."

The success has continued into the fall season when the Cougars defeated Arizona at Gibb Pool, Oct. 15, the program's first win against the Wildcats. 

The win was truly a team effort. Taylor McCoy led the way with a meet-best 21 points after winning the 200 back and 200 IM while five other Cougars collecting wins (Larson, Duarte, Lauren Burckel, and a pair of freshmen, Noelle Harvey and Angela Di Palo).

"Beating Arizona for the first time in school history is something they will never forget and I will never forget," said Leach.

"There's a picture after the score was posted on the board, where we had two seniors, Keiana Fountaine had her hand up in shock and surprise, and Paige Gardner threw both her hands up," Leach added. "It was such a cool moment to see that captured."

At the 2019 Pac-12 Championships, Mackenzie Duarte competed in the 100 breaststroke and 'according to her, "did not swim as well as I hoped."

In addition to the successes in the pool, the program has excelled in the classroom earning CSCAA Scholar All-American Honors for the Spring 2021 semester with a 3.72 GPA, the highest team semester GPA in Washington State Athletics history. It was the 10th semester the program has earned the honor, including all six under Leach.

The successes have not gone unnoticed; in particular, to future Cougars with program recently announcing a new class of incoming recruits.

"It puts Washington State on the map," said Larson. "We've had so many new recruits. Have a lot of people come to me and say I really want to go to WSU. Anyone can swim at WSU and I think someone else is going to be a Pac-12 champion soon."

"We're seeing this program continue to grow and flourish," said Leach. "It's all starts how people treat each other and that's what we've been doing from day one. We're really exciting about continuing to build this family the right way."