Diving Deep with U Swimmer Santiago Contreras


(Courtesy Utah Athletics)

By Ryker Jackson, Sports Writer

The University of Utah swim and dive team held an exhibition against Brigham Young University Friday night, and the team put together a good effort. For one player in particular though, the meet was special for a different reason altogether. Redshirt junior Santiago Contreras was finally able to race and contribute to his team after waiting on the sidelines for a year.

Contreras had been swimming all his life, but only recently began swimming with the University of Utah swim and dive team. After redshirting last year, the Venezuelan native is happy to be competing with his teammates.

“The team is really nice to me, and I’m really happy to finally race with them,” said Contreras. “I feel really excited to finally race and to hopefully improve all my times.”

Although he’s only been in the United States for two years, he’s been practicing for much longer than that. He does point out, however, that swimming is different in Venezuela in comparison to the United States. Here, swimming is done through schools with teams. In Venezuela, it’s all done through clubs.

“I’ve been swimming for fifteen years,” Contreras said. “It’s down to clubs [in Venezuela]. It’s not like universities or schools, only through clubs. You have ten clubs per city, and for a meet, all the clubs will race against each other.”

Head coach Joe Dykstra didn’t hold back his praise of Contreras. “He’s a neat kid. He came from Venezuela, and there’s a lot of turmoil in Venezuela,” he said. “Last year, he had to do a year in residence, so today was his first meet as eligible, and it was a good start. It’s great to see him finally be able to race after training for several years to get to this point.”

Contreras’s goals for this year is to make it to the NCAA relays.  He loves relay racing and said that he wants to be a part of every relay that he can. When asked who his favorite swimmer is and who he tries to model his swimming after, Contreras said he tries to emulate American swimmer Caeleb Dressel because he is a “beast.”

He said that the food that he misses most from Venezuela are arepas. He did say that his favorite food here, however, are barbecue ribs and that they are better than the ribs in Venezuela.

Contreras credits much of his success in swimming to his parents and family and to the constant support that they have shown him. They came to every single one of his meets in Venezuela and they are the reason he made it to the United States as a swimmer.

Contreras said that he loves the team culture hear at the U. In Venezuela, individual swimmers care more about themselves, but here at the U, the team is what comes first, and that team is like a family. He credited his growth as a swimmer and as a person to this feeling of camaraderie.

Dykstra was happy with the enthusiasm shown by Contreras and the rest of the team, saying that there was a lot of support from fans and that for an exhibition meet, this was a great sign. He also said that the team has a lot to work on before heading into conference play and that their times need to improve significantly.

This experience will also be greatly beneficial to a young team mostly made up of freshmen and sophomores. As Contreras noted, the captains of the team are doing a great job of building unity and helping the team move forward into conference play.

Coach Dykstra said that this year he intends on being able to compete with all of the teams in the conference by having depth on the team. He said that the first couple of years in the Pac-12, there were only a few swimmers and divers that could compete at the top of the conference, but he now feels that the team has the necessary depth and talent to perform and compete at the highest level.

Part of this depth comes from players like Contreras, who bring enthusiasm and heart into their play and help boost the team through their positive outlook on the game and on life. After an alumni meet, the Utes will be up against Arizona next, and Contreras, now eligible, will be able to hit the pool once again.


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