Women’s swimming hopes to build on high national rank

Occidental swimmers practice at Taylor Pool at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. Kathy Ou/The Occidental

From finishing sixth in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) to placing first among Division III schools at the Pepperdine Invite, Occidental’s women’s swim team is currently ranked 14th in Division III. The high ranking comes with 11 new first years on the roster.

“I’m only a freshman, but I’ve heard that the excitement of having such a big team is more motivating,” Emily Driscoll (first year) said. “So we’ve been pushing each other more in the pool and in the weight room, which is attributing to our success.”

The talented first-year class is complemented by a fast group of returners, according to coach Steven Webb. Laura Chun (senior) posted the current second fastest time in the country in the 100 individual medley swim, earning her SCIAC Swimmer of the Week. The 400 medley team additionally swam the third fastest time in the country. In almost every event contested, the team seems to have at least one woman who can swim it well, according to Chun. In fact, this year, Webb predicts that they will have at least two girls in the A finals of the 1650 freestyle at SCIACS, a final race in which they placed no women in last year.

More talented swimmers are choosing Occidental for their collegiate athletic career for the strong academics complemented by a reputation as one of the best swim schools in SCIAC, according to Driscoll. Each year, the team seems to get better, and Chun believes the strong recruiting class is a sign that people are starting to recognize this.

“I know the SCIAC division is one of the fastest, if not the fastest DIII league,” Driscoll said. “So I knew it would motivate me to work harder while I could still be a successful student. It almost feels like a DI environment with DIII expectations, which is perfect for me.”

In addition to rigorous academics and a fast team, Occidental’s women’s swim team also offers a close-knit and personal environment that drew the new crop of talent to Eagle Rock, according to Sarah Nelson (first year). Webb even FaceTimed for an hour with Cindy Dong* (first year) before she made her decision, as she was never able to make it to campus for a recruiting trip.

“When I visited the school, I saw how the team interacted and I really wanted to be a part of that,” Sarah Nelson (first year) said.”

Jessica Thompson (first year) echoed the sentiment that the close-knit team drew her to Occidental.

“I loved the team dynamic and coaching style I saw when I did an overnight stay during my senior year,” Thompson said. “Oxy swim team is like a family, and after sitting down to talk with coach Webb after my visit, I felt like we shared similar views on the way swim practices should be structured.”

The team has a heightened energy by the prospect of the new pool and Webb’s coaching style, according to Chun. Webb writes intense practice sets for the swimmers, encouraging them to be hardworking student-athletes. Additionally, first years coming in are motivated by their older teammates.

“As an underclassman, it’s encouraging to see how dedicated the upperclassmen are to the team and to the sport, and I attribute a lot of that to how coach Webb has reshaped the Oxy swim dynamic,” Thompson said.

After the potential of the team was revealed in Malibu and the 14th place ranking was published by CollegeSwimming.com, the team set high goals for the remainder of the season.

“Our goals for this season are continuing to get better each day, to break at least 15 school records and to finish the season top 20 in the country,” Webb said.

The individual expectations for the team vary, but most have success in mind. Thompson sees the women’s team getting a clean sweep of wins within the conference throughout the season and placing first at SCIACs. Chun hopes to break the women’s 200 individual medley record and for the team to place third at the conference championship. Dong wants the team to get as many individual swimmers and relays as possible to the NCAA championships this year.

The team next faces Pomona-Pitzer and Whittier in a tri-meet on Nov. 10.

*Cindy Dong is a videographer for the Occidental.