Head swimming coach Ed Pretre came to the Truman State womens team this year with a reputation to defend — a seven-year first place streak and
23 years in the top two slots in the New South Intercollegiate Swim Championship conference.
The women secured second place out of 15 teams, advancing a 23-year streak of finishing in the top two slots during the Feb. 22-25 meet, . But the team’s first-place streak was broken, losing by 91 points to Henderson State.
The men finished sixth in conference, dropping two spots from fourth place last year.
During his first season poolside at Truman, Pretre said he tried to channel the team’s focus to finishing races hard and not thinking how other teams are doing. But as a coach, Truman’s reputation in the NSISC is impossible to ignore.
“There’s a lot of pressure, absolutely,” Pretre said. “When you’re looking at championship banners everyday, I think it just reminds you of what you have to live up to everyday.”
This year, the women have an expectation to finish near the top, but had fewer athletes to pull it off and no diving events to help rack up points, Pretre said.
A normal roster has 18 swimmers, but this year, because of injuries, Pretre said the Bulldogs competed with 13 women.
“When you don’t have the numbers to fill [a roster], our expectations were to go down there and kind of take care of the task at hand and not worry about what Henderson State’s doing,” he said.
On an individual level as well, Pretre said he wanted swimmers to concentrate on their strokes and race strategy more than beating the competition.
That’s how freshman Abby Hempen approached her event, and broke a NSISC record for the 200-breast stroke with a time of 2:18.71, beating the previous record of 2:20.62 set by Truman State’s Michaela Osborn.
Hempen said she was striving for a personal best time rather than an all-conference record.
“Before conference I didn’t know what any of the records were,” Hempen said. “At the [preliminaries] I saw that I was close to it. The whole season I’ve been trying to get under that 2:20 mark, so I knew if I reached that goal, I’d [also] beat the record.”
Hempen said she was excited about her record-breaking race, and satisfied with the overall second-place finish, especially considering the shallow roster.
For the mens side, junior Jerod Simek also reached a personal best. Simek won the 1000-meter freestyle during the first day of the meet with a time of 9:23.26. During day two, Simek won the 500-yard freestyle with a B-cut time of 4:33.17.
The individual titles were his first times winning a conference race, Simek said.
Simek said he was satisfied with the mens overall sixth-place finish especially considering the tough competition from teams that do well at nationals.
“Looking at everyone’s times, we had a very successful conference [meet],” he said.
But now, with the conference championship finished, the swimmers are not thinking about records. They’re thinking about the NCAA National Championships March 14-17 in Mansfield, Texas.
Pretre expects to find out Wednesday or Thursday who qualified for the meet. He thinks Truman might take seven swimmers from the womens team and one from the mens team to Texas.
“If you think about seven girls with a team of only 13, that’s pretty damn good,” he said. “They all worked their tails off for it — even the ones that aren’t being considered.”