The Dinos shifted the balance of power in men’s CIS swimming at the University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre on Sat. night. The men’s team defeated the UBC Thunderbirds 760-586.5 points to earn the Nelson C. Hart Trophy. Although the Dinos victory was not as improbable as the Giants’ superbowl win, they were underdogs for a whopping 10 years.
The Dinos pride, though, is surprisingly modest for a team riding an impressive feat. No swimmer can focus on their individual performances without lauding their teammates.
Chad Hankewich, a fifth-year veteran, came home with six gold medals, one silver medal and a CIS championship record in the 100 metre freestyle with 49.12 seconds. He was instrumental in the Dinos’ victory, but even Hankewich granted a measure of his success to the team.
“When I first came to Calgary from Saskatoon, we had a good team,” he said. “There were gaps [and] there were events that we really could not fill. We have put a lot of work into recruiting, developing our second strokes and finding ways to have men in all 13 events.”
Head coach Mike Blondal also credited much of their success to a strategic, long-term plan to build up a strong team.
“Three years ago, we began raising more funds for scholarships in order to recruit the best student-athletes in the country,” he said. “On top of that, we have to continually showcase our program as one that produces athletes that can win at home and represent Canada abroad.”
Chris Tobin is emblematic of the Dinos secret to success. Tobin grew up in a small Ontario town with only an outdoor pool, so he did not make the jump from hockey to swimming until he was 15 years old. From late bloomer to third-year Dino, Tobin has improved his times drastically. In Vancouver, he garnered two gold medals and, most surprising for Blondal, he won a silver in the 200 metre breastroke. But even Tobin had little to said about his individual accomplishments.
“It felt pretty cool,” he said about his own events. “To beat UBC, everyone had to swim well. They are a great team. We did what we had to do from the beginning, qualifying four guys for the 200 freestyle final in the first event.”
Tobin was not the only swimmer who has made exponential developments with the Dinos swimming program. Kevin Gillepsie and Mike and Willie Derban have seen similar improvements. Gillepsie picked up two medals in the 100 metre and 200 metre freestyle. Thane Kubik, who had a broken leg earlier in the season, was the team’s rock, swimming to score points in the more grueling events, including the 200 metre butterfly and 400 metre freestyle.
Clearly this was a team effort. The Dinos won because of their depth. Even their adversary, CIS swimmer of the year and UBC Captain, Callum Ng recognized the Dinos’ strength.
“There is no question they’ve developed well as a team over the years and we have to tip our hats to what they’ve accomplished,” he said. “They deserve to be CIS champions.”
The Dinos basked in this championship glory for a moment, drinking out of the trophy, enjoying champagne and ritually tossing their coaches into the pool.
But the Dinos were clear about one thing: they will not rest content on their laurels. According to Tobin, repeating this year’s victory is “not going to be butter,” especially with Hankewich graduating.
So the strategic recruiting and the off-season training will continue. They have an arsenal hidden away, including Mike Brown, a world championship medalist, who has committed to representing the Dinos next year. Blondal also admits they will draw from the rich talent pool in Calgary, hoping to regain their rightful position as the dominant team. After all, the Dinos captured 12 titles in the 16 years before the T-Birds started their winning streak in 1998.
The lady Dinos came second for the eighth-season in a row at the CIS swimming championship last weekend. The women’s team–which has never won a CIS banner–had to settle with the honour of being closest to victory. In the end, the UBC Thunderbirds outscored the Dinos with 704-647 points en route to their 11th consecutive banner, an unprecedented run in any CIS sport.
The UBC women were just too strong for the Dinos to conquer this year. On the final night, the UBC medley relay capped their championship win with a Canadian record at 4:04:95. The swimmer of the meet, Annamay Pierse, swam national record times that vaulted her into the top 10 in the world. Pierse led a breastroke brigade that was almost impenetrable by the Dinos. If nothing else, the lady T-Birds success speaks to the level of excellence in CIS swimming. Although Pierse was ultimately focused on Beijing 2008, she was thrilled with university swimming.
“It was so great to see everyone swim as well as they did and contribute to the win,” she said. “It’s an honour–and so cool–to be a part of such an amazing team with such a dynasty.”
The lady Dinos were not slouches either. Kevyn Peterson had an impressive win in the 800 metre freestyle with 8:38:02 and Katy Murdoch, who was still recovering from mononucleosis, won the 200 metre backstroke, achieving 2:11:71. These two ladies brought home four and three individual medals, respectively. Murdoch was optimistic but hungry for more.
“Watching the boys win made us eager to win,” she said. “We gained a good experience as a team this year.”
Peterson’s sister, Taylor Peterson, and her training partner, Brianna Hendriks stole the spotlight, though. Taylor dropped an astonishing five seconds in the 200 metre breastroke scoring 2:26:90 in attempt to catch the T-Birds. She came within six one-hundredths of a second of Pierse in the 50 metre breastroke, but settled for silver.
Hendriks, a Cochrane native, won CIS rookie of the year for her double-silver-medal performance, although she admitted to some first-time nerves.
“I lost focus, mentally, in the 400 and the 800 metre freestyle, but I was excited about my performances,” she said. “The meet was so much fun. It is different than any other meet because you are swimming for the team.”
The first-year swimmer was ecstatic about being apart of the Calgary team. She had no regrets about turning down some offers to go south of the 49th on swimming scholarships.
“The team is like another family to me,” she said. “Kevyn is not only my training partner, but we’ve really bonded. It’s easier to train having her around. Hania [Kubas] and Katy are inspirational to have around. They’ve worked to make us a cohesive team.”
Making such an impact on the CIS rookie of the year bodes well for the forward-looking Dinos. They do not want to be close next year. They want to win. Co-captain Kubas is adamant about this.
“We were not expecting the Canada West win, but we got it,” she said. “It’s like the boys last year. They won Canada West, but not CIS. This year they won CIS. We hope we can do the same. We are a young team with so many open doors and opportunities.”
Head coach Mike Blondal, agrees. They have a two-fold plan: to continue to develop the current swimmers and to seek new talent to fill the gaps.
By the looks of it, the ladies are following in the tracks of the men’s team. If success breeds success, the banner may be theirs in 2009.