The University of Calgary Dinos men’s swim team brought the Canada West championship banner home on Jan. 27, capping off an impressive weekend in Victoria. The title is the Dinos first CW championship since 2010.
The women also had a good showing, racking up 742.5 points in a second-place finish behind the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. The strong showing will give the Dinos plenty of momentum and confidence heading into the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championships, which are being held at the U of C aquatic centre on Feb. 21–23.
“It was a good meet,” said Dinos head coach Mike Blondal. “We had a really good recruiting year and we got some good recruits. We put together a good team. They swam really well and they were excited and fit.”
This year’s new recruits included standouts Russell Wood and Tianna Rissling, who won the CW Rookies of the Meet honours for the U of C.
“When we can win rookie of the year here, and ideally win rookie of the year at the CIS championships, it’s just like getting first round draft picks in hockey,” said Blondal. “Tianna was great throughout the meet and Russell Wood really stood out. There were so many young rookies that stepped it up in a great way, it was pretty exciting.”
Leading the Dinos was fifth-year breaststroker Jason Block, who won gold in all three men’s breaststroke competitions despite twisting his ankle just two days before the meet. Wood, Rissling and Olympian Erica Morningstar were among 12 Dinos swimmers to capture gold in various individual and relay events.
The coaches were also impressed with the performance of first-year Bradley Crocker, who won bronze and managed to break the two-minute barrier in the 200-metre backstroke, an important milestone. “He’s got really good talent and a monster work ethic,” said Blondal. “He’s dropped eight seconds off his 200-metre backstroke so far this year, which is pretty exciting.”
The Dinos’s hard work has paid off so far this year. The team trains up to 24 hours a week while going to school. During a 10-day Christmas training camp, the team swam a total distance of over 100 kilometres. Dedication to such a demanding training regimen requires a tight-knit team that supports each other on and off the pool deck.
“Their social life is more within the team,” said Blondal. “I think at university it’s hard to deal with the social aspect as well as the school and sporting aspects. Something has to give — you can’t do all three of those at a high level.”
The Dinos now have their sights set firmly on nationals. Their main goal is to win another CIS banner for the U of C. The last time the U of C won a championship was 2011.
“My goals are to come home with a banner and to have excellent swimming,” said Blondal. “If everyone takes care of themselves, we’ll win the banner.”
Hosting the CIS championships will be a different experience for the Dinos. They will have the typical home-team advantage that most sports teams are familiar with, although Blondal hopes being at home won’t affect the team’s unity. “There is a disadvantage too, you don’t get to go to a hotel and get the team all galvanized,” said Blondal.
Blondal also hopes to see the community get behind the team and expects the stands at the Aquatic Centre to be full in a couple of weeks.
“Swimming is a huge sport in Calgary, although people don’t know it,” said Blondal. “Calgary is the biggest swimming community per capita in Canada.”
The CIS championships are being held Feb. 21–23 with finals starting at 6 p.m. each day at the U of C Aquatic Centre. The ticket price for students is $5.