Swim program reaching new heights

By By Tye Smith

By Tye Smith

Last year, the U women’s swim team defeated BYU for the first time in team history.

Not a soul graduated after the season, and the returning women will be experienced and confident coming off the biggest victory the program has ever seen. BYU has dominated swimming in the region for years, and the breakthrough victory is a sign of rising expectations facing Ute swimmers.

“Whenever you can defeat the conference champ head-to-head in a dual meet, it’s a good sign,” said head coach Mike Litzinger. “It was really exciting for us and exciting for the kids that worked so hard.”

Litzinger, who was named Mountain West Conference Women’s Coach of the Year, explained how the win over BYU marked a culmination of several years’ worth of work.

“It was a great feeling for all of us because we’ve been working hard for three years, since I became the head coach here, to bring the women’s team up,” he said. “It hasn’t had much of a history, and one of the jobs that I was commissioned to do by the athletic department is to bring the women’s team up to be competitive for a conference championship.”

Litzinger is enthusiastic about the core of returning swimmers on the women’s team. Thirteen women who were freshman last year will be back on the squad this coming season. “They’ve been through the ringer once,” Litzinger said. “Now they’ll know what it’s like.”

The coach is also optimistic that his new recruits will be able to contribute.

“Our freshmen coming in are very good,” he said. “They have good national experience, so they’ll be ready to jump right in and help us out.”

There is no question that the pressure to succeed has increased for the U women this year.

“Our women are poised to win the conference outright,” Litzinger said. “We’re right on the very edge of doing that.”

On the flip side, the U men’s swim team has experienced a restructuring process that is slowly increasing its level of competition. Litzinger is aware of the difference between the two teams.

“They are two different teams with two different dispositions who are really on two separate paths,” he said. But, as he remained positive about the future of the men’s team, “Eventually their paths will meet at the top,” he said.

Litzinger has been unable to structure a highly competitive men’s team because of scholarships that were already taken before he arrived. “It was just a matter of cleaning house and getting the proper kids in there-the kids [that] would fit better into my system,” he said.

Being as competitive as the women’s team is still a few years down the road for the men, but there are reasons to be optimistic about the near future.

“Our guys aren’t there yet, but they are going to be super competitive,” Litzinger said. “We just need another year under our belt and another recruiting class, and I think we’ll be right there knocking on the door.”

Despite the lack of success in recent years, Litzinger expects to make the same kind of impact on the men’s team as he did with the Ute women.

“We’re making great strides in the men’s program,” he said. “Over the last three years, it’s just been about establishing respect. Now, when we walk into a dual meet, the other team knows they are going to have to step up and race us hard.”

Coach Litzinger has made it clear to the team exactly what will be expected of his team.

“Now it’s about taking it to the next level,” he said. “We’re ready to go on the women’s side, and our guys are at the point now where there are no gimmes, and people are going to have to swim us straight up.”

With hopes of a conference championship for the women and creating a solid foundation for the men, the coming swim season should hold plenty of excitement-as well as uncertainty-for Utah swimmers.

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