Iowa swim and dive competes in last home meet as program discontinuation looms

With the UI set to terminate men’s and women’s swim and dive at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, both squads competed in what might be the last home meet in program history.


Shivansh Ahuja

The men’s medley relay is underway during a swim meet at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. The women’s team hosted Nebraska while the men’s team had an intrasquad scrimmage. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Isaac Goffin, Assistant Sports Editor

Jan. 16 could go down as one of the most important days in Iowa swimming and diving history.

While the women’s swimming and diving team defeated Nebraska, 170-128, and the men’s team competed in an intrasqaud format because Wisconsin couldn’t make the trip to Iowa City because of COVID-19, those storylines weren’t the biggest to emerge from the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center (CRWC) Saturday.

With the University of Iowa deciding to cut its men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams at the end of the season and with the Jan. 16 meet being the only one on Iowa’s campus this season, it could be the last time the teams compete in Iowa City.

“The emotion was very high,” senior women’s swimmer Kelsey Drake said. “It was kind of surreal at the same time because it’s been so long since we’ve competed, so I was just so excited to get back into the pool and race. I’ve kind of put the fact that it will be my last meet in this pool in the back of my mind. I’m sure that will hit me later, but it was definitely a special moment for all our seniors making it through all these four years. We have so much love for this program.”

Just to have the opportunity to compete, the Hawkeyes had to fight through adversity in many forms. They had to work to comply with Big Ten Conference COVID-19 protocols, come to terms with the impending discontinuation of their program, and train for the delayed January start to the season.

“Early on I said if they turn our lights out, drain the pool, whatever is put in front of us we’re going to get through it,” head coach Marc Long said. “And to step up and beat another Big Ten team like this right now with – let’s put it this way. We started the season with six women divers, two of the NCAA divers and one All-American. Today, we dove with a freshman walk-on and that’s just one event, so they don’t have any excuses in them. They’re moving forward.”

Knowing it was her last home meet, Drake had trouble getting focused prior to warm-ups.

“Definitely the days leading up to it I was calling my mom,” Drake said. “Definitely had some emotional breakdowns but I tried to make it more positive and realize that this is a great team and that we want to end on a positive note in this pool and I think we did a really good job at doing that today.”

Drake had one of the best performances of the day for the Hawkeyes. She participated in the first event, which was the 200-medley relay, and helped Hawkeyes win that event with a time of 1:42.76. The Marion, Iowa, native won the 100 fly (54.46) and 200 IM (2:06.04) and was the runner up in the 200 fly (2:01.58).

As an Iowa native and lifelong Hawkeye fan, Drake decided to stay at Iowa to finish out her degree instead of transferring, but the feeling from August when it was announced her sport was cut hasn’t gone away.

“It’s been a journey to say the least,” Drake said. “I feel very betrayed. It’s been hard not to put that on other sports. I know it’s not their fault and I’m definitely cheering them on. It’s fun to watch them, but I’m just trying to stay positive throughout this and put that in the back of my head. But it’s hard not to be angry to say the least.”

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, Drake and three other athletes on the women’s swimming and diving team filed a Title IX complaint against the UI in September. In December, a federal judge issued a preliminarily injunction that momentarily stops the UI from cutting women’s swimming and diving at the end of the season.

Anze Fers Erzen, a junior on the men’s swimming and diving team, participated in three individual events during his intrasquad meet and won all of them. The events were the 100 back (48.10), 200 back (1:44.12), and 200 IM (1:47.82).

Though the men could only compete against themselves, the team was just happy to compete at the Campus Recereation and Wellness Center.

“Yeah, we really loaded it up on them,” Long said. “We didn’t have any limitations on events. So, it’s part of training but for some people their last competition on a short course was almost a year ago. So, it was really great to kind of shake the rust off and find out about some of our freshman in a racing environment. It’s tough to match this type of environment in a practice. So, we got a lot to go through but I’m really happy with how they stepped up.”

Fers Erzen is transferring to Texas A&M next season to continue his swimming career.

As an international student from Slovenia, Fers Erzen said it could have been hard to adjust to life in the U.S. But, according to Fers Erzen, his teammates welcomed and accepted him right away.

“I wanted to stay here to just enjoy just as much time with these people as possible because I realized straight away that the hardest part of the program being cut is not necessarily losing the opportunity to swim here but losing all the connections with the people that are here,” Fers Erzen said. “That’s like the really special thing about this program.”

One of the challenges the swimming and diving teams have faced since August is athletes transferring to other programs.

As a program alumnus and 17-year head coach at the UI, watching student-athletes deal with the heartbreak of having their program cut and transferring away from their dream school has been difficult for Long.

“It’s really emotional,” Long said. “It’s really devasting for me and the team to think that this could be the last meet is gut wrenching, so the transfers have been hard, and they’ve been emotional about it. But each time they’re regrouping and continuing to move forward so just control what you can control is really the message and thing that they’re thriving in. But then you throw in COVID. We had people that were out with tracing and COVID today that were big point scorers. I mean our meet suits are coming Monday so the challenges are there but in the grand scheme of things going on in the world these guys have an opportunity to do something special which is to try to swim fast and represent their school.”

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