With just four meets separating it from a chance to win its second Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship in three years, the UC Davis women’s swimming team has already been turning heads this season.
The Aggies are eighth in the most recent mid-major Top 25 rankings, released by CollegeSwimming.com last week.
Individually, sophomore Hilary Hunt is definitely one UCD swimmer worth watching. She proved this by breaking a school record at last month’s Mizzou Invitational, clocking a 1:58.99 in the 200-yard backstroke.
“I spent a lot of time getting pep talks from my coaches before (the race),” she said. “I was in the furthest lane, so I could see my coach standing on the sidelines. Nothing gets your heart pumping like seeing your coach waving at you to go faster.”
With the performance, Hunt surpassed the previous 200 back school record, set by Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Yuka Kobayashi. The finishing time also reached an NCAA ‘B’ qualifying standard.
The accomplishment is more inspiring considering Hunt’s history — at one point having to play the same role as her coach, waving on her Aggie teammates from the sideline because of an injury.
As a freshman in 2010-11, Hunt was forced to redshirt after breaking a bone in her hand. She rehabbed the injury by continuing to stay fit in the pool, using just her legs to propel herself.
“To her credit, it was the attitude she had throughout that period,” said UCD head coach Barbara Jahn. “Always positive, always asking, ‘What more can I do?’ That’s a mind-set I try to get from everyone.”
Hunt was there — looking on — as her fellow Aggies dominated the first-ever MPSF championships to earn the 2011 league title.
“It was kind of nice to have a year as a buffer zone,” Hunt said. “I got to see what competition looks like — to step back and view things from a different standpoint.
“When I got my chance to compete, I knew what to expect. I didn’t have any fears or worries. I knew exactly what I needed to do.”
In the 2012-13 campaign, she ranks No. 1 in the backstroke for the UCD squad. Jahn, who has led the Aggies for four decades, thinks Hunt has the willpower to hold on to that position.
“She earned it, and she definitely works to maintain it,” Jahn said. “There are people who want to take that No. 1 spot, but she’s got an amazing work ethic and she’s a fierce competitor.”
In the meet prior to the Mizzou Invitational — UCD’s 178-117 dual victory over Nevada — Hunt won both backstroke events with team season bests of 57.46 and 2:05.94 in the 100- and 200-yard races, respectively.
But the humble Aggie is not one to brag about the times she has posted, and is quick to cite the support of a coaching staff and teammates in her success.
“I have training buddies that I always ensure I’m swimming next to,” she said. “That has definitely inspired myself and some of the other girls to push each other.”
When it comes to ambition for Hunt and the rest of UCD squad, it’s all about getting better before the Feb. 20 MPSF meet.
“My biggest goal is just working hard and getting faster,” she said. “I tend to surprise myself, and I’m still not exactly sure what I’m capable of — which is kind of fun.”
The next test for the Aggies, who stand at 4-2 in dual meets, is a home meet against Pacific. The competition kicks off at noon Saturday at Schaal Aquatics Center.
Jahn is looking forward to seeing all of her local women get to action in the pool after more than a month of intense training.
“It’s a great way to kick off the second phase of our competitive season,” Jahn said. “Because it’s a home meet, it allows us to swim all of our team members, which is a good thing.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at email@example.com or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett