Mary Harrison, Campus Carrier sports editor
Jayne Claire Vincent, Campus Carrier assistant sports editor
The men’s and women’s swim and dive teams began their season last Saturday by hosting the University of Montevallo and Emmanuel College. The 2022-2023 season has already differed from previous years due to the first head coaching change in program history and smaller team sizes.
Berry’s new Aquatics Director and Head Coach of Men’s and Women’s Swim and Dive, Astrid Escobar, started at the college in July, replacing Paul Flinchbaugh, who established the program in 2008.
While all team members were recruited by the previous coach, student athletes have been impressed with Escobar and her coaching. Junior Diego Torres respects Escobar for how well she communicates with the teams.
“She does a great job on emphasizing what needs to be done,” Torres said. “She communicates very well at practices as to why we are working on specific things. If we do something right or wrong, she’ll let us know so that everyone is held accountable for their work.”
In past seasons, the aquatics department has had a graduate assistant to share the coaching workload. This year, however, Escobar is running the team by herself, except for the help of sophomore diver Joshua Tolson, who transferred to Berry this year.
Tolson started coaching diving in Calhoun over the last year and now competes while also helping to coach the diving teams.
Escobar runs practice with more intentionality compared to freshman swimmer Ashley Young’s high school experience.
“In high school, we kind of went 80% every day, whereas now, sometimes we swim with the intention to shake out and something not intense so that the next day we can practice doing something really challenging,” Young said. “You can tell that everything we do has a purpose behind it.”
Practices are organized to exercise different heart rate zones, with planned days for when team members peak and recover.
At a practice last week, Escobar said she tested the teams’ aerobic thresholds and found that many of the athletes’ aerobic capacity had improved since the beginning of September, indicating that her program worked well for the team.
Escobar divided the season into four phases, with the teams recently finishing the general conditioning and training that allowed her to see the strengths of the athletes. The teams will now separate into sprint, mid-distance and distance specializations.
“I think it’s exciting because certain athletes that historically, in the past, have swam [certain] events, I’ve had conversations where [a sprinter] will say, ‘I’d like to swim a distance event’,” said Escobar.
The men’s and women’s teams were too big to use the lanes simultaneously last year, so they practiced separately. Now, with a smaller team size of 46, the men’s and women’s teams practice together.
In addition to the regular practice format, Escobar’s design for the intersquad scrimmage on Oct. 8 also focused on building unity and morale between both the men and women and the swimmers and divers.
Young said part of the scrimmage involved having swimmers compete in dive events and divers participating in swim events, which helped her appreciate the skills of her diving teammates.
“[Coach Escobar is] really big on recognizing how impressive it is that each of us do something different and bring something different to the table,” Young said. “Everyone is contributing different points to the competition, [and is] really valuable in the work that they are doing for the team.”
Escobar credited senior leadership with helping first-year students acclimate, saying her goal is a team with no hierarchy between classes or individuals and pushes all athletes to demonstrate characteristics that move the program forward, like dependability and positive attitudes.
“I think that [the seniors are] part of the reason we’re in a healthy place,” Escobar said.
Swimmers exhibited strong underwaters during the intersquad scrimmage, Escobar said, which are the times that a swimmer achieves their fastest speed before they push off of a turn and after starting.
Divers competed in the University of West Florida diving invitational at the beginning of the month, providing a baseline to improve on before last Saturday’s meet. Most programs had already competed in their first meet of the year for both swimmers and divers, according to Escobar.
Escobar said she was excited for the season to begin so that she can now see her athletes apply what they have been practicing over seven weeks of training in a true competition setting.
“I’ve seen them as trainers,” Escobar said. “Now I’ll be able to see them as competitors.”
Pre-season polls released late last month projected the men’s and women’s aquatic Vikings to finish third and fourth in the conference, respectively. Escobar said she believes the men could win the conference and that the women will surprise themselves as the season goes on.
“I think there’s a lot of talent that maybe hasn’t been quite as unpacked on the women’s team,” Escobar said. “They’re fast, but I don’t think the women even know how fast they could be.”
While the Vikings finished last of the three schools in their first meet of the season, an uneven matchup was expected. Montevallo and Emmanuel are both National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II schools, compared to Berry’s D-III membership.
The Vikings will compete again against Montevallo and Emmanuel in a swim and dive invitational this weekend at Escobar’s alma mater, Sewanee: The University of the South. This will also be the teams’ first time to face opponents within the Southern Athletic Association (SAA), according to Escobar.
“My hope is that we arrive, that we let the conference know that this is a refreshed program,” Escobar said. “It’s more about, are we coming in focused day in and day out.”
The swim and dive teams’ first individual conference meet of the season will be held next Saturday, Nov. 5, at Centre College.