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Swimming & Diving Big Cat Day

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Entering his fifth year as head coach of the men's and women's swimming and diving teams, John Hargis has established a tradition to cap off the intense preseason dryland that starts each year.

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The highly anticipated day, known to all swimmers as "Big Cat Day", happens after five weeks of Saturday circuits and is built up to be one of the hardest challenges they will face throughout the year.

The captains are in charge of partnering the swimmers and each pair goes through 44 different dryland stations that are set up around the three pool decks. The exercises vary anywhere from doing cleans with sandbags to flipping tires to side crunches and dips. The coaches make sure that every muscle is worked to fatigue in this circuit.

"The day originated on it's own," Hargis said. "The inspiration came from when I was an athlete at Auburn and we would go through circuits similar to this but ours were based around the weight room. I wanted to do something like that when I became head coach so I sat down with the coaches that were here my first year and we came up with it."

Hargis has designed the dryland circuits to build up to the final "Big Cat Day", making it the most significant day of the five-week program. The first Saturday of the circuit the swimmers are introduced to each exercise and only go through the stations once. The second, third, and fourth weeks, the swimmers go through the circuit twice and in the fifth week, they are challenged to go through all 44 stations three times.

"The time for how long they stay at each station differs each week," Hargis said. "Week three and four, we give them more rest because we want to make it more about quality versus rushing through it. If they are not doing things right, we'll back up stations and redo it because we know they can do better."

Even before the fifth week arrives, all the swimmers are talking about "Big Cat Day" and know they are going to be challenged in ways they did not know were possible. However, not everyone knows the meaning behind the name and where it originated.

"We make the very last one extremely meaningful and call it 'Big Cat Day'," Hargis said. "At the time when we came up with the circuits, the club team was named 'Big Cat' so we took that name. We wanted to know who's the toughest, who's the biggest, and who's going to be the bigger animal. It has become a tradition where you can create your own attitude. Every year the kids talk about it and the kids know what to expect."

In addition to being physically tested, "Big Cat Day" creates a sense of confidence that the athletes can use later in the season.

"They take their bodies beyond what they ever thought they could do," Hargis said. "They know it's a huge feat they got through and they have that in their mind that they can always look back on and reflect."

After "Big Cat Day" is over, the coaching staff comes together to choose a male and female pair to be named the "Big Cat" of the preseason.

"We go through the past five weeks and look for who has improved the most, who gave the best efforts and decide which group deserves the acclaimed title," Hargis said. "Within that is hard work, accountability, and who works hard all the way through. We haven't had the chance to sit down as a staff and decide the winners yet for this year."         

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