There are eight freshmen on APU’s 23-member swim and dive team. Each member is committed to moving the team forward as they look ahead to the NCAA Championship meet.
Although swim and dive is often seen as an individual sport, freshman Elodie Poo Cheong describes her team as a supportive unit.
“We’re always pushing each other in practice; we suffer together,” she said.
The team gathers for bonding activities, and members often encourage one another outside of meets. Poo Cheong said each week, team members are paired with a new partner they can encourage with a note or candy, a program called “sweet and treat.” The team goes to dinner together, and Poo Cheong spoke fondly of the recent beach bonfire.
“We bring our talent to the team, but we are an additional contribution to what is already here,” Poo Cheong said.
She looks up to her coaches and each one of her teammates. “Everyone is so inspiring in each of their ways, so I try to glean what I can from them. We’re moving in the same direction together,” Poo Cheong said.
She also looks up to sophomore teammate Rosalie Santa Ana, who qualified for the NCAA Championship Meet as a freshman last year.
Following a first place win in two events against Biola at APU’s home meet on Nov. 7, Santa Ana was named a Pacific Collegiate Swim and Dive Conference Athlete of the Week.
Santa Ana emphasized the team as a whole, but said that the freshmen add to it with “team spirit, and energy. They know their goals, and they’re doing it all for God,” she said.
Teammate Erica Knudson, a senior, said, “Each person is valuable for scoring this year, and we are not as focused anymore on specific individual talent, but as a whole, we have gotten better from the incoming freshmen.”
The young members on the team are adjusting well to the collegiate competition.
At the SOKA Invitational on Saturday, Nov. 14, freshman Abigail Wiet won the 200-yard backstroke, eight seconds ahead of her second-place competitor. Wiet later finished third in a field of 22 in the 100-yard breaststroke.
In the same Invitational, Poo Cheong competed and won first place in the 100-yard butterfly. Her teammate, junior Heidi Zuniga, followed just .32 seconds behind.
During their home meet against Biola, freshman diver Rachel Johns posted 209.02 points in one-meter, then 205.50 in the three-meter in APU’s diving portion of the meet.
Head coach Tim Kyle emphasized the team-oriented spirit of this year’s group.
“They all contribute. The strength of our team, again, is that we’re well-rounded. We have some great individuals on our team, but those individuals make up our team, and that’s what I like to focus on,” Kyle said. “Last year we had some national qualifiers who did really well, and we’re continuing to push that and get more people to qualify… We were lacking a little bit in some areas, and the freshmen have filled those gaps.”
Kyle also explained that the success of the recruiting process can be drawn from the fact that they are recruiting faster girls each season.
“The expectation and bar raise every year, and that’s our strength,” Kyle said.
There’s another attribute that stands out in Azusa Pacific’s recruiting process. Kyle said, “We’re not only looking for talented athletes but athletes that fit the mold of APU in the direction that it’s headed.” APU recruiters are looking for swimmers who want to succeed academically and follow Christ as they participate on the team.
Kyle said that Azusa Pacific’s marketing in general aids in the recruiting process, but from his perspective, most of it comes from word of mouth. The swimming and diving reputation gets around.
“I think we really pour into our girls, and that’s shown. People understand that we’re not only athletics driven, but we want to grow spiritually and academically, and really develop better women to graduate from APU,” Kyle said.
Kyle hopes that they will carry what they have learned on the team to their futures. “We want the girls to take what they have learned and gained through the discipline and high expectations of our program, and apply it to their lives,” he said.
The Azusa Pacific swim and dive team will compete against UC Santa Cruz on Saturday, Dec. 5.