Knox’s swimming and diving team is technically two separate teams – men’s and women’s – but there is not much difference between them.
“We practice together. We do the same workouts,” said sophomore Tyler O’Neill, the men’s team captain. “Everyone’s dedicated to not only coming to practice but also doing ancillary things related to swimming such as weightlifting, core workouts, eating well and all that. The only difference is when we have meets, their score goes in one column, and our score goes in another.”
The women’s team scores have been better than the men’s this season, but first-year head coach Jonathan Powers is pleased with the results.
“I’m thrilled with how things are going,” Powers said. “I really appreciate and like how well they are working together and working hard in practice together. It is great to see the success that the team has had and the records that are getting set.”
Already this season, members of the women’s team have broken numerous school records that had previously stood for several years.
Sophomore Bess Cooley, who has set the pool on fire since arriving at Knox, has broken two of her own records — 100-yard breaststroke and 200-yard breaststroke.
“She is amazing and an incredible asset to our team,” senior Sara Dreiser, who captains the women’s team along with fellow senior Lu Yaeger, said about Cooley. “She is really dedicated and always working hard.”
The women’s 400-meter freestyle relay team of Cooley and sophomores Laura Blue, Tory Kassabaum and Rachel Clark set a school record, which was set just three weeks prior, for their time of 3:56.33 in the Augustana Invitational on Dec. 4 and 5.
Dreiser attributes the success of the women’s team to the men’s team.
“It has helped a lot having some of the faster males to swim against and who motivate girls to keep up with them,” she said. “Girls do. It is incredible.”
On the men’s side, no records have been broken this season as of yet, and that may be due to a lack of experience.
“We have a number of swimmers who have never swam competitively before,” O’Neill said. “There are several guys who are crossovers from other sports. It is really exciting to see people come out for a sport they have never really competed in before or never really considered beyond recreationally and compete at the collegiate level.”
On the collegiate level, most teams have home meets and eight-lane pools, but the Prairie Fire do not have a home meet on their schedule this season due to some unforeseen circumstances, nor do they swim in eight-lanes at home at Lay Natatorium.
“We have a much smaller pool which means we don’t have the luxury of spreading people out as much as we would like,” O’Neill said. “We don’t need an eight-lane pool. We just need a big open space with water. That is all we need.”
The Prairie Fire swimming and diving team does not need to practice together either. In fact, they are unable to because the team is so big.
“It is working out fine so far these two sessions,” Powers said. “The thing I have been concerned about is that lack of team unity could be a problem, maybe. But again, they get along real well together.”
The close-knit group of swimmers has already accomplished some of the goals Powers set at the beginning of the season.
“My overall goal is to have fun and enjoy the experience. I want them to be smart, and they are. That is one goal I have for them,” he said. “Another one is for them to swim fast, and I didn’t define what that was, and so certainly they have in many respects exceeded my expectations already. The season really revolves around the conference meet, and I think we are working towards a good conference placing.”