While most students are frantically preparing for finals and finishing projects this week, the men's swimming and diving team has added pressures. The Cardinals will travel to Oxford, Ohio on Friday for the three-day Miami Invitational. The meet marks the end of the first semester's competitive slate and gives all attending teams a chance to perform at the highest levels.
Coach Bob Thomas said a lot more teams than usual will be battling for supremacy in Oxford.
"They opened their doors perhaps a little more than they should have this year," Thomas said. "Because of the size of the meet and the quality of the competition, it should be more intense than our conference meet. It will be very difficult to come back at night."
The meet will follow a format of preliminary trials in the morning, with the 16 fastest qualifiers returning at night to score points in championship and consolation final heats, consisting of eight swimmers each.
Typically, depth plays a larger role in a team's success at an invitational than front-line swimmers. But because of the large number of teams and swimmers, 134 entrants in the 50-yard freestyle for example, Thomas feels the Cardinals will need their leaders to excel.
"Unfortunately, our team depth will not influence the outcome as much as our studs stepping up in each event will," Thomas said.
The Cardinals highest returning finishers from last season's Miami Invitational are senior captain Nick Badgett and junior Zach Smith. Badgett and Smith both recorded fourth-place finishes last season, in the 100-yard backstroke and 200-yard breaststroke, respectively.
A large meet like the Miami Invitational would be just like any other except for one factor. With the meet being the last of the semester, teams will rest their swimmers and make special preparations for optimum performance, commonly known in swimming circles as the "shave and taper." Swimmers will maintain their training volume, but decrease intensity and will also shave their bodies for a physical and psychological advantage.
"Shaving down does make a difference," Thomas said. "The human performance lab has done studies on drag and the difference in speed is measurable. Shaved guys go anywhere from 1 to 3 percent faster."
While the physical difference is tangible, Thomas warns against his swimmers relying too heavily on the mental feeling one gets from being shaved and rested.
"So much of it is psychological," Thomas said. "Guys rely on that 'magic feel' and when it isn't there, they can be lost. I always try to educate them as to what is going on and that it's their confidence in the work they've done that leads them to their best performances."
So with the magic feel and some extra rest behind them, the Cardinals will look to end their semester with a bang and improve on their finish and times from last season.
"This meet is a good measuring stick of their progress this season as well as a big factor in their performances at the end of the season," Thomas said. "We'll be looking forward to another fast meet from our team as well as the field."