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Hanna Kubas and Erica Morningstar relax on the pool deck.
Paul Baker/the Gauntlet

Dinos win the west

The Dinos break records, blow minds at Canada West championships

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Breanna Hendriks, second-year University of Calgary Dino and all-star middle-distance and distance freestyler, remembers how good it felt to claim both the men's and women's Canada West titles last year, amongst uproarious cheers, high-fives and hugs from all the Dino swimmers and coaching staff.

'It was the first time the Dino women had beaten the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds for first place and the second consecutive Canada West win for the Dino men.

"It was so amazing, beating out UBC and winning the Canada West title in Edmonton," said Hendriks. "Never in my life have I felt so much a part of a team as I did last year at Canada West championships."

Going in to this year's Canada West championships this past weekend in Victoria, the rookies were looking for similar experiences.

"I can speak for all the rookies and say that we're really excited to prove ourselves this weekend," said enthusiastic first-year Dino Jessie Olsen-Heisler. "We all came to the Dinos with a goal in mind and we're ready to race."

If Olsen-Heisler spoke for the rookies, then third-year Dino and backstroker Dan Langlois spoke for the veterans of the team, who are all well-versed in the ways of going up against the best varsity swimmers in western Canada, namely the UBC Thunderbirds.

"We have a great team, said Langlois. "We are all ready to swim fast and give UBC a scare before the [Canadian Interuniversity Sport] championships."

What followed was a weekend of incredible racing from all teams present, including a total of 27 Canada West record-breaking swims.

On Sunday night, the Dinos did indeed accept their gold medals for both the men's and women's titles, beating rivals UBC for an overall victory the second year in a row and suggesting to Canada not only that the Dinosaurs are back, but that they are here to stay.

On the women's side, the Dinos dominated the field with an overall score of 924 points, the UBC Thunderbirds placed second with 687 points and the ever-accelerating University of Alberta Pandas placed third with 401 points.

The men's side mirrored the women's, matching the women's team's 924 points, the Thunderbirds came in second with 573 points. The Golden Bears took third with 412 points.

Although the Dinos swept the podium with a total of 49 medals won over the course of the meet, there were standout swims to back them up.

The Dinos' own David Woodman was awarded with male rookie of the meet after securing a bronze in both the 200-metre freestyle and the 100 metre freestyle, and a gold in the 4x100m metre medley relay and 4x200m freestyle relays. Woodman was enthusiastic about his first Canada West experience.

"I couldn't have envisioned a better finish for the team," said Woodman, who himself is known for ­-- and probably owes his rookie of the meet award to-- his strong finishes. "Being a part of the team provided me such a great rush, standing on the blocks during the relay was such a thrill."

Female rookie of the meet was also awarded to a Dino, not surprisingly 2008 Olympic team member Erica Morningstar. Morningstar's six gold medals this weekend were unofficially dubbed "Phelps-like." However, as Morningstar is no stranger to winning multiple gold medals on the Canadian scene, it could instead be said she pulled a Morningstar this past weekend, breaking three Canada West records in the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays and 4x100m individual medley relay in the process.

"This was my first university meet, and while I still have room for improvement, I am happy with the results," said Morningstar. "From my experiences on various teams, I've learned what winning teams are alike in and out of the pool, and I truly believe the Dinos are a winning team."

Dinos head coach Mike Blondal expressed pride in his swimmers' performances, crediting their dedication to preparation for their success.

"The team really showed that hard, deliberate practice pays off," said Blondal. "There have not been many opportunities in my coaching career where everyone had fired as well as we did this past weekend."

UBC also posted some noteworthy swims; both the male and female swimmer of the meet awards were awarded to Thunderbirds. For the men it was breaststroker and 2004 Olympian Scott Dickens, who won five medals and set four Canada West records over the course of the weekend.

"This event was a great opportunity to see where the team is at and get ready for the national championships in two weeks," said Dickens. "I was pretty pleased with my times. It was a great meet."

2008 Olympic team member Annamay Pierse was the female swimmer of the meet for the second year in a row, after claiming three gold and three silver medals and breaking three Canada West Records.

"This is a pretty hard competition because there are a lot of races in a short period of time," said Pierse. "There were a lot of records broken and it just shows how awesome the meet was for Canadian swimming."

Blondal is naturally pleased with his swimmers' victory this weekend, but is staying focused on the future.

"The opportunity is there to win our first-ever national women's team title and to also for the first time win both the men's and the women's team title," said Blondal. "This will only be accomplished by the whole team keeping their eye on the target and that target is a strong work ethic up and to the start of the meet. "

Blondal's post-Canada West meet tone may appear more subdued than last year's, after winning the overall team title for the first time. However, this is not an indicator of less excitement over the Canada West victory, but rather higher expectations for this year's CIS championships.

These expectations are especially centred on the women's team, who last year came as close as they ever had to winning the CIS title (a margin of 57 points) and yet were unable to break an 11-year winning streak by the Thunderbird women. Dino women's team captain and fifth-year swimmer Hania Kubas-- bittersweet yet confident going into her final CIS championships-- is also focused on the task that remains ahead of her team.

"Last year, we were the underdogs," she said. "This year, the expectation was to defend last year's Canada West title on the road to CIS championships. We have accomplished that. This year, we plan on dethroning the UBC Thunderbirds and starting our own 11-year streak, and then some."

The excitement will only continue to build after the swim team's second consecutive Canada West victory, as they put the finishing touches on preparations for what promises to be both an exciting and history-making CIS championships for the Dinos.

"That is where the story of this team will be," said Blondal. "The CIS championships will be the show, the preparation will be the story."

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