By Tom Shively,
GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's been nearly two months since the Penn State men's and women's swimming and diving teams last took to the pool in a competitive event, and the Nittany Lions are eager to get back into the water.
Their first meet of the new year comes this Saturday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. against Navy and North Carolina. While these two schools aren't part of the Big Ten, they give the Nittany Lions a much-needed boost in terms of getting back into competition form and heading into the home stretch of the season.
More than anything, this weekend provides a chance for Penn State to return to consistent competition, back to the form they developed all preseason and through the first half of competition.
"We want to make sure that we're right back on the pre-meet routine that we have," head coach Tim Murphy said. "Warming up and cooling down, getting ourselves individually prepared to compete, we want to make sure that we have that aspect down. It's not something that you want to make up as you go, it has to be consistent. I think we're in a good spot with that."
With only a few weeks left until the Big Ten championships (six for the men, five for the women), and the NCAA championships less than three months away, training becomes more focused as the athletes are starting increased training regimens specific to their events, meaning less time together as a team.
"Their training is probably going to get a little bit more specified now that we're coming into the final part of the season," Murphy said. "We established a pretty strong routine in the fall, and now it's important to stay with that. We've got separate training groups depending on the events, and within that there are some individuals that need to be treated a little differently. Most of that is in respect to the volume of work that you're doing. How much rest you're going to get is also critical."
Although training is now becoming more individualized, which means there may be less time for team camaraderie than earlier in the season, the team is doing all it can to make sure the bond between the coaches and athletes stays tight.
The men and women both took a trip down to Naples, Florida in December for workouts and some bonding time, something Murphy viewed as invaluable for the team's chemistry.
"We reminded them before we went down that this was probably a time that we would spend more time together in that week than we would in the rest of the semester because of our schedules. We have three different group practices and at the same time individual class conflicts," Murphy said.
Murphy could sense that his team was coming together and enjoying themselves on the trip, simply by the way they carried themselves and acted around each other. He also noted how that can translate to success back up north.
"Usually you can tell the pulse of your team when you're riding on the bus to practice, especially in the morning. Down in Florida, they just had a nice energy around them and I saw them bring that back to the deck of the pool. I think they're pretty aware of the window of opportunity."
With such a large group of athletes, communication is essential to the team's success, not only from athletes to athletes, but also involving the coaches. Murphy relies heavily on his seniors and captains to keep tabs on what is going on around the program and make sure that he stays up to date on it all.
"Our captains play an important role in communicating with the team, and especially with the coaches. We want to make sure we're addressing concerns and issues, and the individual idiosyncrasies that prepare us for Big Tens," Murphy said.
This weekend's meet coincides with the start of the spring semester, meaning the Nittany Lions are adjusting to their new class schedules as well as resuming their training and preparing for the upcoming competition.
"The men's and women's sides did very well in the classroom, which is something we're proud of," Murphy said. "We just had a team meeting yesterday to remind them what's important. From an academic standpoint, we want to make sure they're meeting with professors and down at the Morgan Center so they've mapped out their academic calendars."
With the academic and athletic sides both back up and running now, the Nittany Lions can focus on coming back strong from their hiatus. They're up to the challenge, and this weekend's meet is sure to be a benchmark for what this team is truly capable of.
"We didn't compete in December from both an academic standpoint and a training standpoint," Murphy said. "Coming off a midseason meet, we rested them a little bit, didn't really taper them. We haven't competed in a while, so the opportunity to bang heads with Navy and UNC on both the men's and women's sides will be a good wake-up call. Now we're just looking to find a rhythm from our scheduling standpoint, back to the training. We want to get into a good rhythm in the pool, the weight room, and continue to work on that team culture aspect."
The meet is set to begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday.