PITTSBURGH — Following an Oct. 20 loss at the Richmond Duels to the host Spiders, Duquesne swimming coach Dave Sheets reminded his team that it was built for conference championships, a message which became constant throughout the season.
Both the Duquesne swimming and diving teams made sure that message held true earning 580.5 points in the four-day long Atlantic 10 Championships defending its title from last year at SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio.
“The girls have gotten to a point where they trust what we do,” he said. “There’s not a lot of questions to the training we do and what we do in the weight room. I think trusting what we do and trusting in our coaching staff is one of the reason why we’re starting to see the success we’re having over the course of the last couple of years. There are a lot of other teams where maybe their focus is to swim fast in the middle of the year or a dual meet, our goal is always a conference championship at the end and that is what we try to focus on every year.”
The 580.5 point total represents a program best mark, besting last season’s 567 output.
Woke up with that champion feeling 😁 pic.twitter.com/zIfD0WJNNj
— Duquesne Swim & Dive (@DuqSwimDive) February 24, 2019
Duquesne essentially led the competition wire-to-wire, owning an advantage after each day of competition, whereas last season, the Dukes trailed Richmond by one point heading into the final day of competition.
“I think after winning one year, we didn’t talk about it a lot but obviously we wanted to win,” said Sheets. “Going to that meet and trying to repeat, that was the most stressful part of it.”
In last year’s meet, Duquesne had to sweat out the final competition the 400-free relay, needing to place high to hold off Richmond, but there was not nearly as much pressure with the lead a comfortable, but not a secure one.
Duquesne needed to earn eight points in the final relay to secure a victory, which essentially meant that if the race was swam cleanly that the trophy would head back to Towers Pool, which is precisely what happened when the quartet of Carson Gross, Hanna Everhart, Emma Brinton and Audrey Steen touched the wall in sixth place.
“I told the ladies no one has ever been disqualified for a slow start,” Sheets said. “We just wanted to enjoy the moment because I knew there were teams we would beat in the 400-free relay. For us to sit there and not have to worry about the outcome of the 400-free relay, it made things a lot more fun for us.”
A total of nine Duquesne swimmers received medals led by Brinton’s five. Of those five medals, four were gold. Senior Abigail Stauffer also contributed by making the podium on four separate occasions.
Freshman Audrey Steen earned three medals including a gold in the 400-yard medley relay and was named Most Outstanding Rookie Performer, an award Brinton received last season.
“When we recruited Audrey, we knew we were getting something special, she just needed an opportunity,” said Sheets. “She had struggled with her swimming for about three years and when Megan reached out to her, she came for a visit and you could see this was a kid that was grateful for the opportunity we were going to give her. When she came in, we knew we had something special when we saw her practice for the first time. Giving her the opportunity at a meet like that and for her to perform the way she did, we’re just so happy for her and what she accomplished.”
Each championship team is different and that is for a variety of reasons, something Duquesne can relate with. Last year’s seniors graduated and now are affectionately called “swammers”, a term which ensures their contributions are not forgotten. In addition to freshmen including Steen, Duquesne’s diving program earned its first points in just its second season back as a varsity sport after 15 years of inactivity.
Led by coach Charlie Hauser, Sawyer Weitzel earned an eighth-place result in the 1-meter diving event, while Adrienne White placed 11th in 3-meter diving.
“Hopefully it shows that the investment we’ve made in diving is worth it,” Sheets said. “Next year we’ve got a stud diver coming in which hopefully will balance our program and make it better. It could be at a point now where getting a year of experience in, if we have to lean on our divers a little more next year to get points, that is something we could be able to count on them for.”
As Duquesne prepared to accept its trophy, it observed a similar routine to last year’s celebration, singing “Don’t Stop Believin”, posing for pictures and waiting towards the outside wing, close to the ready room as a team preparing to accept the trophy, which made the drive back to Pittsburgh in the back seat of Sheets’s car.
“If you’ve got something good going, you don’t want to mess it up,” said Sheets. “That’s why I chose the seat that I chose and it is one of those things where swimmers are very routine people. I don’t like to take them out of the routine they have for fear of changing it.”
Following last season’s win, Duquesne participated in the CSCAA National Invitational which allowed for those who participated to try different distances and strokes. Duquesne was slated to compete in the event this year, but Saturday night, Sheets had a change of heart and the Atlantic 10 Championship will serve as the final event for the team’s six seniors.
There were multiple factors which led to the decision, one of which is Sheets having to undergo shoulder surgery Monday.
“I don’t want to go to that meet miserable and I don’t want the kids to have a miserable experience,” he said. “I decided last night we’ll take this year off and get back at it next year. I’m a hands-on guy and I am just one of those people that needs to be there.”
Duquesne plans to take a couple of weeks off before it prepares to go for a three peat. Plans to publicly and privately celebrate the team’s latest title had yet to released at the time of this article.
As Duquesne puts a bow on its season, another one is right around the corner. The program has become consistent, improving in the conference tournament to now winning twice.
Sheets believes that if his team can appreciate its history, that success is possible.
“We want the kids to appreciate where we were, where we are and where we want to go,” said Sheets. “As long as we have that, I think we will have success. Do I think we’re going to win every year? I can’t say that, but we’ll do our best to put together a program that is capable of winning but winning is not an ordinary thing, at least winning a conference championship. We want to enjoy what we’ve done and when we get back in the water in a couple of weeks, we’re going to focus on next year.”