Bring on the Warriors

GVL / Mohamed Azuz

GVL / Mohamed Azuz

Lucas Rains

The wait is finally over for the Grand Valley State University men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams after a year of rigorous preparation and training.

The No. 4 Laker men and No. 9 Laker women are in Geneva, Ohio, this weekend to compete in the GLIAC Championships for an opportunity they have long been waiting for — a chance to take down the Warriors of Wayne State University.

WSU, with its No. 8 men’s team and No. 3 women’s team, won both league titles in 2013 and will be the main competition again this year at one of the fastest conference meets in the country.

“It’s a deep conference all the way around,” GVSU head coach Andy Boyce said. “It’s one of the best conferences in all of Division II.

“It’s mentally exhausting for sure, and you have to make sure you’re mentally strong to make it through a four-day meet.”

The Lakers’ main focus will be to get as many athletes as possible to finish in the top 16, because that’s how points are accumulated. More points are awarded when swimmers finish in the top eight, which will also be key for the Lakers if they plan to overthrow WSU.

GVSU senior captains Erik Aakesson and Caitlyn Madsen know what it takes to compete at a high level at the conference meet, and they are confident in their team’s ability to do great things in the next three days.

“The focus all year has been to bring home the championship to Grand Valley,” Aakesson said. “Everything so far this year has been in preparation for this meet. No one on this team has a championship ring, and it’s time for that to change.”

The men placed second in 2013 while the women finished fourth.

Madsen, who owns one of the most decorated careers in GVSU history, said it is important to stay focused throughout the entirety of the four-day meet.

“I would say that our focus is going into each and every event and racing,” she said. “We want to get people back into the top 16 or top eight, and we are hoping for a lot of smart and fast swims.

“Last year was pretty frustrating for a lot of us. We had some good swims, but we didn’t like leaving the meet after coming in fourth, so that is definitely fueling our fire.”

In the past few weeks, the Lakers have been focusing on fine-tuning the “little things” in the pool — cleaning up technique and making sure their starts and turns are where they need to be.

“They’ve done the work, now it’s just time to rest and see how fast we can go this week,” Boyce said. “We’re hoping to see some fast times and great diving at the conference championship.”

Expectations appear to be high among both swimmers and coaches.

GVSU may have its sights set primarily on GLIAC titles, but it will also be attempting to qualify as many athletes as possible for the NCAA Division II National Championships in March, which will also take place in Geneva.

“Across the board, we need everybody to step up,” Boyce said. “It’s a total team effort.”