WSU swimming: Pac-12 Championships preview

Cougs enter into toughest competition of season



WSU women’s swimmer Alexandra Vartiainen swims in a breaststroke race during an NCAA women’s swim meet against University of Idaho, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen sports co-editor

The goal of every season in every sport is to make the postseason and succeed in it. Well, the time has finally come for the WSU swim team to take on not only the postseason, but the gauntlet that is the Pac-12 Conference.

After posting a 2-6 dual meet record this season and going 0-5 in Pac-12 competition, the Cougars will head Wednesday to Federal Way for the Pac-12 Championships. Head coach Matt Leach has seen only one Pac-12 champion in his four-year tenure thus far and has sent a Coug to the NCAA Championships three times.

Last year, Chloe Larson was the only Coug to qualify for NCAA’s, and she has since graduated. The team, however, did send 12 swimmers to the CSCAA National Invitational Championship, but Leach said he does not want to put more expectations on this year’s squad.

“I think our student-athletes put a lot of pressure on themselves in general, and then you throw more on,” Leach said. “Obviously I want to go in there and go lifetime best times, I want to break records, I want to break school records, I want to try to get more to NCAA’s, at the end of the day if I can say we’ve done that. That to me shows we are going in the right direction.”

The Pac-12 is one of the toughest conferences in the country, an abundance of expectations would be too much, Leach said. They need to go in having fun with high energy and let it fly.

Aside from the amplified level of competition at the Pac-12 Championships, the atmosphere is raised as well. The team, however, has seen these schools like Stanford and California before, and that is the reason why they went to the U.S. Open mid-season, there should not be anything new, Leach said.

“To me, it goes back to, ‘let’s focus on what we can control and not worry about everything else happening around us,’” Leach said. “That’s what we signed up for, that’s why we’re here, so that, to me, is fun.”

A significant portion of this team is characterized by the success of the freshmen class. When it comes to freshmen entering the postseason atmosphere, the hope is that they look towards the next race and that the entire team will rally together, Leach said.

Senior captain Jewel Springer said she and the whole team is excited for Pac-12’s. Springer has set personal best times at the Pac-12 Championships each of the last two years and expects the same of herself and her team this week.

“I think success for me well as a team would be everyone being there for each other, people going best times if they haven’t gone best times this year, people continuing to push themselves and just leave it all in the pool,” Springer said.

The Pac-12 Championships provide a great opportunity for the Cougs to bounce back from a tough season record-wise. And they go into the event coming off of their best performance of the season across the board on senior night against Idaho.

The competition runs from Wednesday through Saturday, with Sunday being the last chance to continue their seasons. Depending on the team’s success, the CSCAA National Championships are next on March 9–11 with NCAA’s taking place March 15–18.