Battling rain, tough competition and a grueling four-day schedule, the Panther swim teams set multiple record-breaking times as the program hosted their first invitational Nov. 19 through 22.
The men’s 4×100 medley relay school record was the first to fall victim to the relentless Panthers. According to junior Nir Barnea, the men have come close to breaking the “cursed” record several times, but something always went wrong and the team would fall short.
This round, everything went right. The Panthers on deck were on the edge of the pool, one eye on the clock, toes practically in the water, cheering on their team in the final leg.
Barnea and his teammates Eric Berg, Brian Dumont and Thomas Steenberg finally shattered the curse, beating the previous record by almost eight full seconds.
Dar Raz, a junior, was excited for the team but knows the men have more surprises in store.
“This year, this season they have a really strong team,” Raz said. “So it was awesome, but there’s more to come.”
Raz had an exciting weekend herself. The defending Sunshine State Conference 100 backstroke champion was finally able to get back in the water after being out with an injury for the first half of the season.
After competing the first day of the invitational in the women’s 4×100 medley relay, Raz’s smile couldn’t have been any brighter. She said the race was good because she found some things to improve on but that it was a great first outing swimming for her team.
“Sometimes I stress myself out too much,” Raz said. “So I just told myself ‘this one I’m going to enjoy, because it’s the first race of the season and there’s nothing to lose.’”
The final days of the tournament saw eight new records, including the first broken women’s record of the season — and it was even broken twice.
Teammates and roommates, Shelby Pearce and Trista Phelps both competed in the 200 butterfly. Phelps swam first, breaking Pearce’s previous record. Less than five minutes later, the record was broken again — Pearce wasn’t quite ready to relinquish her title.
Competitive streak aside, Pearce said it’s always fun training with sophomore Phelps.
“I saw her swim 2:11 and I said ‘oh gosh now I have to go 2:10,’” Pearce joked. “She’s dropped 7 or 8 seconds over all this season which is huge, so I’m really happy for her too.”
The freshmen men came out ready to compete as well. Eric Berg broke the 100 backstroke record and Adi Davidov cut seven full seconds off his previous best in the 200 butterfly, setting another record.
“I’m really proud of my friends that broke all the records. Every single one,” said Davidov. “I think we can maintain this and keep breaking the records. We all want a big team in the NCAA tournament this season.”
Adi and the other swimmers displayed exactly the kind of attitudes that Head Coach Justin Andrade has been working hard to instill in his team. Andrade said getting everyone to come together has been one of the biggest challenges, and biggest successes, of the season.
“We’ve seen them make huge strides and get closer every single day,” said Andrade. “I think as that continues to develop, the success in the pool is going to follow but it starts first in the locker room.”
In the program’s five short years of existence, the team has seen two head coaches and more than four different assistants.
Pearce said that every year has been very different, but it has helped having experienced upperclassmen in the program that have been with the team all four years.
“It’s good to see the freshmen coming in and really starting to bond with the upperclassmen because I know when I came in, we didn’t have upperclassmen,” said Pearce.
The strides being made in the pool this semester are coming hand-in-hand with some improvements to the Panther Aquatic Center.
New speakers, equipment, tents on deck and an upgraded timing system have all helped to turn the Florida Tech swim facilities into an invitational worthy venue.
By hosting big events at home, Andrade said he’s able to put his athletes in a fun environment that will allow his team to see what they’ve been working so hard for— to swim fast in front of their own fans.
As the broken records show, the Panther swim teams shone when given the chance.
Andrade hopes that the broken records on top of 24 NCAA B-cut qualifying times will keep his teams hungry over the winter break and ready for more when the Panthers return for a home meet against Georgia Southern on Dec. 16.