Jayhawk Insider: History in the making
Written by Allison Thomas
On Sunday, March 3, Kansas swimming & diving returned home to Lawrence from its six-day journey in Austin, Texas, where the team made record-breaking strides individually and as a whole at the 2019 Big 12 Championship inside the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center.
The Jayhawks had the best Big 12 Championship performance in Kansas program history, leaving the meet with a second-place team score of 754.50 points, a number that the swimming and diving program had never reached before. The closest the team had come to seeing a number like that on the scoreboard was in 2017 Big 12 Championship when the Jayhawks finished in second place with a total of 683.50 points.
Helping place points on the board for Kansas were freshman swimmer Kate Steward (79) and senior diver Vicky Xu (51), who contributed a total of 130 points. Each student-athlete saw herself standing atop the first-place podium in her respective event; the 200-yard breaststroke for Steward and three-meter diving final for Xu. This was yet another first for the Jayhawks, as the duo of individual championships were the first time the program has seen two wins in history.
A Big 12 Championship first-timer, Steward, talked about how the experience was as a freshman and the feeling of winning the 200-yard breaststroke with a new school-record time of 2:11.98 on the final day of the championship after months of hard work in the event.
“I had done the 100-yard breaststroke the day before so I kind of just let go of any expectations that I had and I was excited and ready for the last competition of the week,” Steward said. “When it actually happened, I’m not going to lie; it kind of caught me off guard a little, I was not expecting to win that (event) at all. So I can’t even describe how it felt to see the (number) ‘1’ by my name. I looked at the girl next to me and knew that it was going to be close, so when I actually touched the wall and I heard an eruption of screams, I knew right then that no other team was screaming that hard for their teammates, it was our team. They were so encouraging and they are the ones that are going to be there (for you), so when I touched I was like, ‘That’s my team!’ It was really exciting.”
Joining Steward in her first Big 12 Championship performance as a Jayhawk, Xu blew away the crowd when she dove a winning score of 380.00 on the three-meter diving final.
“I felt so happy and excited,” Xu said. “It was the first time that I have felt so excited after winning an event like that because everyone on my team was cheering me on and wanted me to win. It was going to be a close call whether Kansas or Texas would win (three-meter finals) so I was nervous right before I looked at the scoreboard with the final scores. The team gives me a lot of energy so I was very happy with my performance.”
Adding to the successes of his student-athletes, Kansas head coach Clark Campbell was named the 2019 Big 12 Women’s Swimming Coach of the Meet – the only non-Texas award winner of the group. The award was a ‘cherry on top’ to the event overall for Campbell, knowing that the team had been putting in such hard work and effort all season long.
“You work hard every day without the expectations of awards or anything,” Campbell said. “And the thing about coaching awards is that it should have been a ‘Team of the Meet.’ (When you have) Really good people on your team and staff, they make each other look good. So I would more or less say that we were the ‘Team of the Meet.’ Everyone worked hard, from everyone on the staff to everyone on the team, to make this special. We talked about this being the best version of ourselves this week and they really did it. I think that was just a testament to all (of) that hard work we have done this year. We made almost a ‘pact’ with our team that this was going to be ‘our week,’ and they did it, everybody held up their end.”
The team took its time in Texas seriously, but was also able to relax and enjoy watching their teammates compete at a high level with thriving energy throughout the duration of the long, yet rewarding, week.
That same energy was transferred onto Steward and Xuy as they competed in their events, just the same as they had been doing for their teammates every opportunity they had.
“It was definitely the most fun meet I have ever been to,” Steward said. “I loved how excited and motivated everyone was, it was a super-fun environment to be around. Everyone was having fun and competing the best they could. The whole week process of the meet was so fun. Everyone was rooting for everyone and just excited for each other, which was so encouraging, especially as a freshman competing in the Big 12 Championship for the first time. Having everyone have your back and be excited for everyone else, it is a cool thing to be a part of.”
It comes to no shock that this particular team has set a new standard for the Kansas swimming & diving program for years to come after its performances at the 2019 Big 12 Championship. The passion and camaraderie for the team was something special for the student-athletes to be a part of and flourish off of in years to come.
“I told the team, ‘You learn to appreciate this, because it is not always like this,'” Campbell said. “But that is the standard (now). We set a new standard for our program this weekend of scoring over 700 points. That has been a work of ours for 17 years now, and we finally did it. It was the most ‘A’ finalists that we have had by far and number of scoring swims. I can’t say enough about how well our swimmers and divers did from the time the meet started to the time it ended. I talked to Coach Jen (Betz) about how this is the most locked-in team I have been a part of in 17 years and they have been really focused on doing well.” FOLLOW
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