The Razorback swimming and diving team finished last season with a 7-1 record and is off to a great start this year with a decisive 128-77 victory over Drury University. Arkansas took first place in eight of the 13 events in Neil Harper’s first meet as head coach.
“It was a lot of fun, you know, really got to know these young ladies,” Harper said. “They’ve really performed well in practice, they’ve done a great job in the weight room and they’re confident. It was going to be a challenge, I mean, Drury is a very good team, they’ve been NCAA Division II Champions before. They’ve got a lot of great swimmers and some international swimmers that gave us a test, but the team stepped up.”
Freshman Ayumi Macias showed that she could be a true force in the pool by winning first place in both events she swam in during her first meet as a Razorback. She swam the 500 and 1000-meter freestyle events and finished with times of 4:56.94 and 10:07.49, respectively. In both of her races Macias finished just in front of Australian senior Aiden Lister, her training partner in practice.
“We’re really close,” Macias said. “She’s an international swimmer, so when I came here she was so nice to me. She helped me through everything. We’re like partners, with Anya (Quedens), too, so we’re really close. We’re always supporting each other, and we’re happy for everything that we do and it’s really nice.”
Their partnership and hard work has not gone unnoticed within the organization.
“Ayumi has a great training partner in Aiden,” Harper said in a press release. “They push each other all week. Ayumi is going to have a great career here. This year could be good for both of them. They are good for each other, and I am glad they are here.”
There were also several swimmers on both teams who used cupping therapy, which leaves circular marks on swimmer’s backs. But, Lister has been using the treatment since long before it was made famous in this year’s Rio Olympics.
“I have problems with my shoulders getting really sore. I swim the mile, and so we’re always working really hard and swimming long distances, so they get overworked,” Lister said. “The cupping helps that and eases the pain.”
Cupping is a traditional Chinese medical practice that dates back about 2,000 years and the suction from the cups is designed to increase blood flow and promote healing, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s website.
The Hogs won first place in the 200-yard medley relay, the 1,000-yard freestyle, the 200-yard freestyle, the one-meter dive, the 100-yard backstroke, 500-yard freestyle, the three-meter dive and the 200-yard freestyle relay.
“When (Drury) would win an event, we’d get second, third and fourth,” Harper said. “When we’d win an event, we’d get first, second and third. So, that was the gap. They came in as a great team and it was a lot of fun.”
Freshmen and sophomores make up a large portion of this year’s team, but they showed poise in overcoming the pressure of their first race of the year. The freshman class was led by Macias and Caroline Welch, while the sophomores were led by Erin Kelly and Caitlin Tootill.
Harper seems to have figured out how to keep from overwhelming his young swimmers with the pressure that collegiate athletes so often succumb to.
“You keep them humble. It’s one event at a time, one practice and one week at a time,” Harper said. “We had a really tough week this week, so it was tough for them. We try to keep them humble, keep them thankful for what they’re doing and realize the process is that we have to work hard to make ourselves better.”
Harper said the team needs to step out of its comfort zone from time to time.
“We have to be willing to do some things that we’ve never done before, and they are,” Harper said. “They’re very supportive of each other, they’re positive and things are going well so far.”
Arkansas’ next meet will be against the Florida Gators on Nov. 3 in Fayetteville, and will be immediately followed by a meet on Nov. 4 against South Carolina.