Jayhawk Insider: A year to remember
From breaking pool records, team records and academic records, the Kansas swimming and diving team wrapped-up a season it has been working toward as a program for years.
The Jayhawks started the 2018-19 season with a strong dual meet record of 7-1 to set the standard high for the team moving forward. Out of those performances, three Kansas student-athletes were awarded to the Big 12 Conference Swimmer or Diver ‘Of the Week’ Awards, with a Kansas sweep one week.
Kansas made sure to make its mark in the waters as a program-best score was tallied at the 2019 Big 12 Championship of 754.50 points, swimming in second behind swimming and diving powerhouse, Texas.
While there, Kansas totaled two Big 12 Individual Championships, one by senior diver Vicky Xu in the three-meter diving competition and the other by freshman swimmer Kate Steward in the 100-yard breaststroke event.
The success from Kansas was seen by many and credited to the person who supports them all, head coach Clark Campbell, as he was honored with the Big 12 Championship Coach of the Meet award.
“I couldn’t be any more proud of this team,” Campbell said. “On the bus after the Championship we arrived at a destination after conference with that point total and how well we did and I hope they really learn that it is about being the best versions of themselves, but it was so fun not so much getting to that destination, but the process of getting there. And that process this year was a process that everyone on that bus was a part of. But it has been a process for 17 years to get to that point. That is a solid black line in our sport for how our championship meet is run and that is really a high-level achievement. And I told them that even though we got to this point over the course of the weekend, it was really about the process. I have really appreciated their efforts this year and then the efforts that each of the teams have made over the years, even the teams that proceeded them; the ones that worked really hard at making the program what it is today. It was exciting to get that, but it was even better being a part of that process. We still have a long way to go – which is exciting. It is so fulfilling to be a part of something that matters. It took a lot of work to get there, it will take a lot of work to keep it growing.”
Although the Big 12 Championship was one for the books, the action did not stop there for the program. Xu represented Kansas when she dove at the NCAA Championships and showcased her talents in both the one-meter and three-meter final events against other top high-performing athletes in the country.
Campbell has always made it a point to express the important of high-level performances outside of the water as well as in the pool. This season, the swimming and diving team broke the all-time athletics department grade point average (GPA) record and set it at a 3.70 during the 2018 fall semester, with eight swimming and diving student-athletes earning 4.0 GPAs.
Along with the best academic GPA in Kansas Athletics, the team was recognized as the third-best Scholar All-America Team in all of the Division I women’s programs for the Fall of 2018, selected by the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Scholar All-American committee.
“Big 12s was our highest finish ever with that many points,” Campbell said. “Not only did we have great leadership but what is important is that we never talked about any of these accomplishments. We never talked about the high GPA, and the 700 points was something I didn’t tell the team about until after the meet was over. What we simply focused on was one thing and that was us being the best version of ourselves. And I hope throughout this entire season and their experiences, they realize how important that mindset is and that you can accomplish a lot when you focus on that one thing. A team like what we have — with a bunch of high achievers and hard workers — you simply focus on being your absolute best, good things happen. And so we didn’t have to get into goal times and goal points and number of second swims, goal GPAs for each person, it was simple. It was just, ‘Let’s be the best you (can be) and see where that takes’ us and it took us a long way.”
A driving factor behind having such a successful season and team comes from the leadership that motivates each student-athlete to be the best versions of themselves. While at the same time, demonstrating poise.
Campbell credits a lot of the team’s success to the captains and senior class this year. They hit the ground running to get the legacy started that they wanted from the time the 2018 Big 12 Championships (the year before) ended.
“The seniors had accomplishments not only as athletes, but as students and people in the community,” Campbell said. “Just doing really good things, they set the bar high. It gave everyone good examples to follow in their footsteps. Our freshmen really contributed, usually our freshmen GPAs in the fall are a little lower because they are trying to figure it out, and our freshmen figured it out pretty quick. We are really excited about that and I think that really shocked everybody when we saw that GPA. They are definitely ahead of the curve. You give them the opportunity to grow into it and see that but our freshmen really stood up, not only in the classroom, but also in the pool. They had a quick ‘get acquainted’ time and I really tribute that to the leadership. That is just good leadership when you have freshmen who are acclimating so well and quickly, that is probably why those three phases went as smoothly as they did because freshmen just have really good upperclassmen leadership and they knew what we were about and they went in and got the job done in everything.”
This season was particularly special as the team had an unbelievable connection and was able to go through each phase of the season smoothly. Every transition made was smooth and natural, leading to an all-around incredible season for the team.
“I often talk to the teams that there are three phases every year,” Campbell said. “Every year the team is different and the first part of the year you form as a team, and then you norm and then you storm. Through those three phases, you can see the team grow; getting connected and closer, and believing in themselves and each other. You can’t rush any of those three phases, you (have) got to let them almost work on their own. You can’t talk to them (the team) and direct them in that way, but people saw those three phases play out really well and saw a strong, connected team performing its best when it mattered the most. They really had a good lead in and ended the Championship season really well.”
Although swimming and diving are both highly individual sports, there is a commonality within the team and for this year’s Kansas team, that common thread has been s being the best version of themselves.
“It really boils it down to what really is important in controlling what you can do and then really lean into the process,” Campbell said. “And if you do those things; competitive events, tests in school, workouts, whatever, tend to go better because you are focused on the right thing.”
The team looks forward to adding eight more athletes, four swimmers and four divers, to the roster next year and welcoming them into the Kansas swimming and diving family. The coaches and student-athletes alike are optimistic that the leadership will be just as strong when welcoming the class of 2023.
“We will go through the process again,” Campbell said. “We will have to form, norm and storm and our team is going to be totally different. (It will be a) Totally different leadership structure, we are going to have a big senior class, which is pretty cool. But one of the toughest things in sports that you have to do after you have a successful year is to repeat it, or get better, the next year. You look at teams that have a hard time repeating success because it is probably more difficult than getting there. So what we have to do is bring in our new freshmen, welcome them with open arms, let them know what we are about. We are about the one thing. And initially when we get (started) off is that we have got to form. And that will be again, we are going to be as good as our senior class. And that is what I tell our team every year. I think it is getting to be a pretty cool thing to be a Jayhawk swimmer or diver because we have enjoyed that success and we want to keep working and becoming better. You never want to be satisfied, but we want to continue to grow and build as a program and having a successful year this year we were hungry and ready to have even more success next year.”
It will be a unique season for the Kansas swimming and diving team next year as the year opens again for the 2020 Olympics. As the 2018-19 season has reached an end, Campbell looks forward to other exciting seasons to come and is ready for whatever comes with it.