Latifa Madesko, Campus Carrier contributor

The men’s swim and dive team practices in the Cage Center Natatorium last week as they prepared for the conference championship tournament, Feb. 8 to Feb. 11. Kristen Tucker | Campus Carrier

The Vikings men’s and women’s swim and dive teams are wrapping up their season with much to celebrate. 

Both teams finished fourth overall at the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) conference championship tournament last weekend in Birmingham, Alabama, bringing home multiple top-three finishes. The Vikings also set new school records, a conference record and personal bests.

The men’s team brought home gold medals in four events, silver in two and bronze in two. The women also took silver medals in three events and bronze medals in four.

Astrid Escobar, named the head coach of both teams in summer 2022, was selected as the SAA Coach of the Year for men’s swim and dive.

Players credit Escobar’s coaching philosophies and core values for motivating her swimmers to team’s culture, which bettered their performances.

Senior swimmer Grace Pleasant said that adjusting to a new coach brought some adversity, but Escobar played a crucial role in the Vikings’ successes this season due to her understanding of both the physiological and technical aspects of the sport.

“Once we were all able to get on the same page, we were all working really well together,” Pleasant said. 

Escobar said that she received many compliments at the championship tournament about the team chemistry, crediting them to shared values and teamwork. Escobar said that an emphasis on honesty and consistency improved the overall team dynamic and team culture. 

“My men mirror [my] love for the sport,” Escobar said. “They love the grind, working hard, supporting each other. It builds trust and respect.” 

The consistency exemplified by the men’s team not only shaped the outcomes of their season but also built the competitive atmosphere surrounding Berry swim. The team’s ability to bridge together also broke several school records during the conference tournament.

Senior Noah Brand is a key team leader for the Vikings who has also been a top point-scorer for the Vikings throughout the season.

At the conference tournament, Brand placed first in three events, the 100-yard freestyle, 100-yard butterfly and a group 200-yard medley relay, in which they set a new conference record.

Brand also had a second-place finish in the 50-yard freestyle and 400-yard medley relay and shared a third-place finish with the 200-yard freestyle relay. 

Pleasant placed second in the 100-yard breaststroke, setting a personal best. Pleasant was also part of the 200-yard medley relay team that finished third. Senior Viola Hasko finished second in the 200-yard breaststroke.

Other key leaders in the dual-gender program include junior Ross Valdez, sophomore Andrew Horn and senior Hannah Smith.

Escobar said that the continuous commitment of these student athletes was a key contributor to the Vikings’ success this season. 

“They never wavered in their commitment to pushing this program forward,” Escobar said. “They are well respected members of the team, not for times, but for who they are as people.”

Both teams made progress this season with the helping hand of Escobar, grit and determination. With a balance of upperclassmen and underclassmen, the Vikings are expected to continue to grow as a team.

After facing obstacles during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as with split team practices and different schedules, players from both teams said they found balance once Escobar arrived on campus.

Escobar also emphasized the importance of both teams participating in activities together, which built a family-like team culture that intertwined both teams. Sharing common goals and expectations helped Berry’s swim and dive program create better outcomes that members expect to carry on to next season.

Posted by Campus Carrier

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