The Ashland University swimming & diving team will compete in the GLIAC Championships this week, beginning Wednesday (Feb. 14) and concluding Saturday (Feb. 17) at the Jenison High School Aquatics Center in Michigan.
But really, the Eagles have been in championship mode for the last three weeks as they have tapered their training in order to peak this week with their fastest times of the season.
"I may do things a little differently than some coaches out there, because we taper for a little bit longer than most other programs," said second-year head coach Ron Allen. "Because we don't do an early shave and taper in December or latter part of November, we're able to grind it out. From the science I've been a part of in the sport, too, it's been pointed out that a slightly longer taper works better. You can make adjustments and tweaks individually as you do that too."
And what are the results of that taper?
"I'll tell you in a few days," said Allen, with a laugh.
The Eagles enter the GLIAC Championships with five swimmers ranking in the top 10 in the GLIAC in 10 different events. Senior Grace Reichard is in the top 10 in three races – the 50 freestyle, 100 breaststroke and 200 breaststroke. Freshman Dylan Nasser is also ranked in three events – the 100 backstroke, 200 backstroke and 400 individual medley.
"Percentage-wise, most coaches that keep track of it will tell you if you have right around 70 percent of personal-best times, you're doing a heck of a job. I agree with that," said Allen. "I like to get mine up at 80-plus. You're talking about a lot of swims, so everybody on the team hitting every single race, lifetime-bests? That's not necessarily realistic. But as long as you have a high percentage getting at least one or two really fast times, then things are usually smooth sailing."
Last season, the AU men finished sixth in the championship team standings while the women finished eighth.
Two returners – Reichard and Deemer – have won GLIAC titles in the past, and along with their teammates will look to get back on the podium this year.
"What they provide is much more than speed in the water," said Allen. "Their leadership has been fantastic. Just leading by example and showing the others the preparation in the days that we're in right now. The pre-race preparation that they do very well and religiously. All of those things, they make my job easier. They show the team first-hand how things should be done."
Allen sees his team's eagerness to prove they are ready to make the leap and join the top tier of the conference.
"They're finally starting to get to a level where they want to move up now," he said. "They don't want to be waiting two to three years from now to make an impact and start knocking on the door with some of these bigger teams. They really want to make it happen now. That's a good thing."