Members of the UC Davis women’s swimming and diving team have a habit of outdoing themselves.
Not that there’s anything wrong with bulldozing school records, career bests and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opponents. This never-satisfied behavior has guided the Aggies to 4-0 in the first half of the 2013-14 season, and a national ranking of No. 24, highest in the program’s history, as of Dec. 5.
UCD’s wins this year came over UC San Diego (173.50-123.50), Oregon State (176-120), San Jose State (178-116) and Nevada (151-149).
Most recently, the Aggies set four school records and met seven NCAA B standards at the Mizzou Invitational in Columbia, Mo., last month. UCD completed the event, which featured some of the nation’s top-ranked teams, in fourth place.
“We have a good depth this year, really quality depth,” said Aggie mentor Barbara Jahn. “For the team to set school records in the Mizzou Invite was impressive. That’s usually something we don’t do midseason, usually it’s at the end. That bodes well.”
Through it all, UCD has leaned on the consistent performances of swimmers like senior Liliana Alvarez. She was awarded MPSF’s Turbo Female Athlete of the Week on Nov. 27, right after finishing in the top five in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke at the Mizzou Invite.
Alvarez’s time of 1:00.49 in the prelims of the 100 of that meet reached the NCAA B standard and was just 0.11 seconds shy of a school record. She eventually finished fourth in the finals with a time of 1:01.24. In the 200, she touched with a time of 2:13.22 to surpass another NCAA B mark.
These performances in the 100 and 200 breast were paralleled by an Aggie with expertise in backstroke. Junior Hilary Hunt clocked in ahead of school records in both and 100 and 200 back, and similarly exceeded NCAA B standards.
Perhaps most surprising is a freshman who has been keeping pace with the veterans — Hilvy Cheung. This UCD newcomer raced to a 1:57.60 finish in the 200 butterfly. Not only was this a school record, she placed first and set a new Mizzou Invite meet benchmark.
“She has a lot of potential, and has a legitimate shot of getting to the nationals,” Jahn said of Cheung. “She’s just going to have to get a little bit faster.”
The Aggies’ diving contingent has been led by Hanna Tears, who posted career-highs on the 1-meter and 3-meter boards as early as the dual meet opener against San Jose State. In the next meet, teammate Lucy Lafranchise did the same on the 1-meter board with a score of 271.27.
The divers, like the swimmers, are on respite from dual meets over the holiday break. The divers end the cold spell in Los Angeles at the Bruin Diving Invitational on Jan. 10. The swimmers won’t reconvene in a competitive setting until Fresno State comes knocking on Jan. 11. UCD hosts that dual meet at Schaal Aquatics Center.
During the interim, the squad will be in training. Jahn explained that she’s putting emphasis on perfecting stronger, more explosive turns during races. Even the smallest advantages will help the Aggies in their quest for a third consecutive MPSF championship.
“Our focus has been on how to best prepare our team to repeat the title win, but it’s going to be a little more challenging this year,” Jahn said. “The composition of teams always changes, and it looks like Santa Barbara is going to be hard to beat.”
Slated for the second half of the 2013-14 season is a dual meet with the Gauchos. UCD faces this rival on Jan. 24 at Schaal Aquatics Center, and Jahn expects it to be a dramatic showdown.
“We’ll probably be setting a lot of pool records that day,” she said. “A lot of the races are going to be really close.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett