The Dinos men's and women's swimming teams anticipated to perform well at the Canada West team championships last weekend, but their results surpassed all expectations.
The Dinos men won by an unexpected 350-point margin over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. The women roared back from a 22-point deficit on Sat. to win for the first time since 2003, even without team stud Katy Murdoch who is out due to illness.
Dinos head coach, Mike Blondal, did not know where to start with regard to the past weekend's achievements. Rarely do the stars align for an entire team to perform beyond expectations without being in peak racing condition or, in swimming jargon, without being shaved and tapered.
"We did really, really well," he said. "By the end of the meet, we were swimming like the team we needed to be. We pulled together, junior and veteran swimmers, to fight to the bitter end."
On the men's side, the Dinos improved on last year's slim victory to utterly dominate the 10-time reigning CIS champions, the UBC Thunderbirds. Team captain Chris Tobin, who had a near sweep of the breastroke events, was overwhelmed with the results.
"On the third day, 64 out of 67 swims made it through to the finals, despite our facial hair," Tobin said stroking his beard. The men's team have a tradition of sporting a Grizzly Adams' look from Christmas training camp through to the CIS championship in Feb.
Fifth-year veteran and former national team member, Chad Hankewich, was the leading point scorer. Hankewich's medal haul included three individual gold and one bronze, as well as three relay gold medals to aid the Dinos men swept the relay events. Tobin and Hankewich also picked up all-star honours.
Colin Miazga earned the men's rookie of the year, helping the Dinos to a relay gold and winning two individual silver medals. But the focus remained on the team's success. The men arguably have the strongest team in Dinosty history. They have the maximum 18 swimmers qualified for the CIS meet, with every member capable of scoring at the national level.
"As a team, we did exceptionally well," Hankewich said. "We thought it might be a tighter race, but it was fun."
Tobin tried to explain the huge discrepancy in the points.
"The Thunderbirds lost world record holder, Brian Johns [after he finished his CIS eligibility], and we had an impressive rookie class," he said.
He did not mention that the Thunderbirds also lost a star rookie who cheated on his exams.
The women's team victory was even more surprising, though. The title even shocked Calgary-based Olympic team coach, Jan Bidrman.
"I thought, 'Holy, how did that happen, how did they do that?'" Bidrman said.
He added the lady Dinos have yet to claim a CIS banner, that these ladies have a chance and that they could be on their way to a place in the history books. Team captain, Hania Kubas, echoed Bidrman's enthusiasm.
"For me, personally, it was by far the most exciting meet of my entire career," she said.
Quite the statement given she has travelled widely representing both Canada and Poland internationally.
Kubas, along with teammate Kevyn Peterson, led the women's side in individual performances. Kubas won five gold and one silver medal, while Peterson won five gold and two silver medals. Together with Liz Hendricks and Peterson's twin sister, Taylor, the lady Dinos established a conference record in the 4 x 100 metre medley relay. Peterson set a conference record in the 200 metre freestyle as well.
Rookie swimmer Jessika Craig won gold at her first ever university conference meet in the 200 metre backstroke. Again, her win was unexpected to her and her coach.
Following the weekend's results, the feeling on the Calgary pool deck is both ecstatic and anxious. The Dinos cannot bask in their victory for too long. Blondal's main concern is health and adequate preparation leading up to the CIS Championship.
"We are very confident the men can bring home the CIS title for the first time in 10 years," Blondal said. "The women are in a tighter race. The Pierse sisters of Edmonton did not compete in all of their events for UBC. We will go in prepared for a fight either way."
Kubas remains optimistic.
"We would love to dethrone them [UBC] on their own territory and start our own domination," she said.
All things considered, perhaps the victories were not overly surprising. Through the fall season, the Dinos have consistently performed beyond expectations, trained at a high intensity and maintained a positive vibe. These factors, combined with the past weekend's performances, bode well for a CIS championship battle.