Led by first year Head Coach Tim Kyle, the Azusa Pacific women’s swimming and diving team is hoping to build off a school-best fifth place finish at last year’s NAIA National Championships in the program’s fourth year since its inception in 2008.
The Cougars open the 2011-12 campaign with the Pacific Coast Swimming Conference (PCSC) Relays and Pentathlon in Fresno, Calif. on Friday; kicking off what the Cougars hope to be a successful season. But success for Kyle isn’t necessarily synonymous with championships.
“Success for us is glorifying God in everything we do. That’s what it’s about,” said the former Citrus College swimming and diving coach. “Our success comes in doing the best that we can with God first. We succeed in Christ.”
And it isn’t just coach-speak, the team has been given goals and expectations to focus on, and winning doesn’t appear on the list. Instead he emphasizes personal and team growth. ‘Walk and model the path of Christ,’ ‘Remember that you represent APU,’ ‘work together to achieve,’ and ‘be positive and have fun’ are all individual expectations for each swimmer and diver.
The team goal that Kyle set out is, ‘be as one in God with the quest to glorify Him through team and competition.’ He meets with his swimmers to find out where they are on their spiritual walk, and to talk about their personal goals.
For motivation and a daily dose of scripture there is a word of the day blog with bible verses and advice that is updated daily by assistant coach David Morales. Needless to point out, the program is centered on Christ and personal development. But that isn’t to say that the new man at the helm doesn’t want to win.
“We came in for the entire experience…we want to raise the bar all-around. We’re just trying to make it better” said Kyle.
His team certainly has the talent to be in the running come March, when the 2012 NAIA nationals championships will be held in Oklahoma City.
“I’d like to be third or better,” said Kyle, partially playing down his team’s ability while staying true to his ‘winning isn’t everything’ attitude. “Looking at the talent we have we’ll probably end up somewhere around there.”
Azusa Pacific returns 12 swimmers/divers (including Victoria Gibb, Sara Zandihn, and Quinn Robertson) that have competed in the NAIA national championships, and welcomes a strong incoming group headlined by UCSB transfer Samantha Taylor and freshman Hannah Robb.
“I’m excited about our group. We really brought in the right talent.” said Kyle. “They have a fantastic attitude and are so team-oriented.”
Malerie Morgan and Sarah Burney captain the squad, and have helped to set the tone in the pool during preseason workouts.
“We’ve been training so hard. I have this saying, ‘anybody can be great one day, but it takes a champion to be great every day,’” said Kyle. “We try to be great every day and the way they train they’re on pace to set some personal bests.”
The Cougars will be challenged from the opening meet as they compete with some of the best programs in the NAIA and NCAA Div. II, not to mention multiple meets at NCAA Div. I schools.
Following the PCSC relays and pentathlon the team will travel to the Malibu Invitational, hosted by Pepperdine, on Oct. 22. After a dual meet with Biola on Oct. 29 the Cougars travel north to San Luis Obispo for the Cal Poly Shootout on Nov. 11-12, marking the team’s second of three road meets at NCAA Div. I schools. The stiff competition continues with meets at Concordia (Nov. 19) and UNLV (Dec. 17-19), making for one of the toughest schedules in the program’s brief history; something Kyle is excited about.
“Competition with top athletes motivates individuals to do their best. That’s part of the schedule and they’ll challenge us to post personal best times,” said Kyle. “The women will be challenged athletically, but should really enjoy themselves.”
Azusa Pacific kicks off the new year with its second contest at Biola on Jan. 11 before the team’s final regular season meet in Orange, where the Cougars will face Cal State East Bay, Chapman, and Soka.
The PCSC time trials on Jan. 28 will preview the PCSC Championships on Feb. 8-12.
The 2012 season culminates with the NAIA National Championships from Feb. 29-March 3 as Azusa Pacific hopes to bring home its first swim/dive banner in its final year in the NAIA.