John Christovich

Florida Southern’s swim teams made their return to the pool last month for the first time since the NCAA cancelled the Division II National Championships last March.

The Moccasins competed in their first meet of the season on Feb. 12 against the University of Tampa. The 2021 season for the Mocs consisted of eight swim meets, designed to be contested on four separate dates, all of which were held at the competition-sized pool on FSC’s campus.

 In a traditional year, the season would start as early as October, but COVID-19 restrictions and protocols prohibited the team from being able to compete until February, leaving the squad a very short time frame to administer a season. 

Despite roadblocks, the Mocs overcame adversity by organizing half-team practices to ensure the safety of the athletes while also managing to practice.

With much of the team also having to travel internationally, these obstacles have only been magnified. Freshman Ludwig Mueller, who just raced in his first competition in over a year, had to travel from Germany, where all of the swimming pools are still closed. 

“Sometimes I swam in the lake, but I did a lot of dry-land [training], a lot of hiking, stuff like that, but it wasn’t comparable,” Mueller said. 

Finally getting to come to Lakeland was a relief for the freshman, who also noted that he’s glad to be on a team with such high morale in the midst of the pandemic. 

Swimmers need to have a minimum of five scored meets to be able to qualify for the NCAA Division II Championships, currently scheduled for the week of March 17. After successfully completing four meets against Saint Leo University on Feb. 27, both the men’s and women’s teams have earned eligibility status for the 2021 Championships, which will take place in Birmingham, Ala.

As a team, the men dominated in their eight meets, defeating the University of Tampa in their opener before cruising past Florida Tech and Saint Leo. In their first five meets, a member of Florida Southern’s men’s team placed first in every single event this season, an astounding statistic that showcases the depth that the Mocs have in their lineup of swimmers.

“It’s a little bit of a pleasant surprise,” head coach Andy Robbins said. “We’re doing great, and we’re doing what we need to do, and winning every event is awesome.” 

Although the women’s team dropped their first two meets of the season against the Tampa Spartans, their season wound up being a massive success.

 As part of the joint swim meet with the men’s team against Florida Tech, the women put together some impressive numbers in the pool, which included three first-place finishes by freshman Jazzy Hoffman. The team wound up finishing the regular season with a record of 4-2 after winning all four meets against St. Leo.

Hoffman is one of a number of freshmen who have already made a big difference as a member of Florida Southern’s swim team—teammate Allie Brinton set a school record by posting a time of 2:07.85 in the 200-yard butterfly, and then broke her own record on Feb. 26 with a time of 2:04.73, which earned her a B-standard qualifying time for the NCAA Championships.

 Setting the mark in her very first meet was a big moment for Brinton, who recounted that she was hoping to break a record at some point in her collegiate career. 

“I looked at the record board, and I want to put my name on that board by the time I graduate,” Brinton said. “I wasn’t expecting to break a record so soon, because that was my first meet that I’ve done in a year and a half, it was a three-second best time, it was just really overwhelming.” 

Whether any swimmers are able to qualify for the NCAA Championships or not, the fact that so many swimmers on the women’s team have improved times is a point of optimism for the team.

A number of newcomers on the men’s team have been very impressive in their competitions, including the freshman from Melbourne, Australia, Kyle Micallef, who set a new school record in the 50-yard freestyle event in the first meet against Florida Tech. Micallef’s time of 19.98 seconds would qualify him for competition in the National Championships come March.

The transition from his high school in Australia to competing in Lakeland was initially difficult for the 18-year-old, who noted that limited team practices due to COVID-19 diminished some of the team aspect that usually accompanies participating in a team sport. However, once the swim team was given the go-ahead to practice together, the transition was eased. 

“Now that we’re competing again, I’m loving it, so I guess it made it all worth it—I’ve transitioned well, and I’m loving it here,” Micallef said.

Despite the competition season lasting only a couple of weeks, Micallef attests that morale is still very high. 

“Even though there’s not a full season, and there’s no conference championships or anything, I think everyone was just grateful for that opportunity to race again, and just really excited in general,” Micallef said.

It’ll be a long time before the team is ready to compete again, but not nearly as long as the club had to wait to compete this February, a gap of nearly eleven months. Some swimmers will head back home, like Micallef, who plans to compete in Olympic trials in Australia this summer, while others, like Brinton, will continue to hone their skills in the comfortable Florida environment.

“I think there’s a lot of excitement about what we can do in the future, and where we’re going, I think there’s a sense of excitement, and I think we’re very confident,” Robbins said.

Both the men’s and women’s teams will anxiously await the next swim season as they aim to capture a Sunshine State Conference title, with both teams seeking their first conference championship since 2016.

Selections for the participants in the 2021 Division II Swimming National Championships, along with alternates, will be posted to NCAA.com at 5 p.m. EST on Saturday, March 6. 

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