Reaching new depths: 14 Cougs swam in postseason

Relay teams excel at National Invitational, two freshmen take on NCAA Championships



WSU women’s swim team yells a chant 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 2023 Division-I swimming postseason saw 12 WSU student-athletes take on the National Invitational Classic and two groundbreaking freshmen reach the NCAA Championships for the first time in school history. 

For the 12 going in, however, there was business to take care of. WSU had 12 individual finalists, and junior Kiana Swain swam the fifth-best time in school history in the 200-yard backstroke at 1:57.54.

After a slow start at the Pac-12 Championships, the relay teams kicked it back into gear to bring home three medals at the event. The 200-yard freestyle relay team took third, the 800-yard freestyle team took second and the 400-yard freestyle team took first, setting a school record at 3:17.39.

The time was within one second of a B cut, which is a time that qualifies for the NCAA Championships. 

It was the highlight of the meet, head coach Matt Leach said, but they still expect more.

“We want to have more success there. I think we can be a top 10, top eight team there, which I think is really important,” Leach said.

The NCAA Championships was a learning experience for the two freshmen Cougs who qualified. Emily Lundgren placed in the 50s in both of her races and Dori Hathazi in the 30s in her lone race. 

The competition is a huge step up from the NIC and Pac-12 Championships. Despite the result, Leach said he is proud of the way they took on the challenge even with the odds stacked against them.

“It’s harder because you’re going against teams that qualified for NCAA’s months ago and are working to peak at NCAA’s where we kind of had to do a hybrid, where we’re peaking at Pac-12’s and then again at NCAA’s and that’s really hard to do, you gotta be spot on,” Leach said. “My biggest thing is they stepped into this role, knowing they could make it earlier this season and they kept pushing until they did it.”

The season may be over but the Cougar swim program has a bright future led by two stellar freshmen setting the foundation for their teammates and classes coming in. The goal is that they will pull more people with them and boost recruiting, Leach said.

“We have two freshmen here and we want to build around them so next year we have four, then five [NCAA qualifiers],” Leach said. “I’ve talked to a lot of recruits who say ‘I want this type of facility, I want men and women,” and I’m like ‘well I get that, but some of those schools didn’t send anybody to NCAA’s. It’s great to have that stuff but if the people and coaches aren’t there to help you get there, it doesn’t matter what kind of facility you have. For me, it’s the people at this place that’s pretty cool.”

The team now transitions to the offseason, which will send WSU swimmers in many different directions. Some will go home and swim at Nationals, spreading the WSU brand, and some will stay in Pullman and train. But training in the offseason is key, Leach said.

The team went through many highs and lows this season and rewrote the WSU history books. But in the end, there is always one goal in mind: to keep improving. 

“It’s like links in a chain, if you don’t swim in the summer, there’s no link there, and you can’t connect all the links in the chain and help yourself get to that next level. It’s important we have solid seasons back to back so we can grow and build our chain from one season to next year,” Leach said.