Student learns about Calvin's swimming community

Adam Stout

Guest Writer

It is safe to say that Calvin's men's and women's basketball programs have excelled in recent years and generated a great deal of attention during the winter season, especially during tournament time. The men have captured a national championship and the women have advanced to the Sweet 16, riding winning streaks that included upsets and near-upsets. This winter, the Calvin swim teams should also be recognized for their increasing numbers and great success.

Evidence of this successful turn-around was seen last season as the women's team claimed the MIAA championship for the first time in Calvin's history. Five years ago, they were a distant fifth place, but they steadily improved and swam to a dominating first place finish last year.

The men finished third in conference for the fourth year in a row, which doesn't seem like an improvement, but according to Coach Gelderloos, Hope and Kalamazoo are stiff competition and they often place in the top 10 at nationals. Despite not gaining any visible ground in the conference standings, four swimmers from the men's team went on to become All-Americans.

Following the conference meet last year, both teams sent swimmers to nationals and cracked the top 20 at the NCAA finals. The men finished 18th overall, while the women finished 19th overall. Before last season, no Calvin swim team had finished within the top 20.

This season, the Calvin women have continued their success in the pool by defeating Hope and breaking their streak of 50 consecutive MIAA dual meet victories. The Calvin women hope to once again grab the MIAA championship title.

In the process of achieving these goals, both the men and women's swim teams are making close friendships and setting a new standard for years to come.

Gelderloos, a Calvin alumnus who began coaching in '96-'97, admits that during his tenure, the quality of the team as a whole has dramatically improved. Gelderloos pointed out that the performance of the team is notable. ``The individual character of the swimmers is really our greatest strength,'' he said.

Men's co-captain, senior Bryan Linn echoed this statement. ``Poor attitude at meets was the norm,'' Linn said. ``Now, attitudes in practice and at meets are usually excellent.''

Community is important to both teams. Eating dinner at Pietro's, buying Christmas presents for underprivileged kids, celebrating teammates' birthdays, and participating in Habitat for Humanity together are some of the ways that the swim teams grow closer.

On Mondays, 15 to 25 swimmers can be found in the Fieldhouse, sharing devotionals during ``swim chapel.'' This optional program was started three years ago and hints at the importance of spiritual development on the team. Also, sophomore All-American swimmer Brad White mentioned that the men's team has prayer partners for the members who want support in addition to prayer meetings. ``I consider our swim team really close,'' White said.

The swim programs are not without intra-team competition, however. ``When I came here, there were eight guys and eleven girls,'' Gelderloos said. ``Now we have a full roster of 22 members each.'' Over the last two years, because of rising numbers, several freshmen and sophomores had to be cut from the team, but they were still allowed to train with the team and in hopes of joining later.

Sophomore Britney Stevens said, ``In the water, we are extremely competitive, but we know that first and foremost we're teammates and friends. So when someone has a good or bad race, you can count on someone being there for you.''

Stevens also insinuated that the team's success is somewhat contingent on this support. She said, ``Part of being a championship team involves having a close-knit team.''

Although it is difficult to gauge how much of the swim team's success in the pool is dependent on community, it appears that a close community has formed. It also appears that Calvin's swim teams are reaching high for uncharted waters of success. The swim teams have collectively broken 34 of Calvin's 46 swimming records so far, and with their increasingly strong finishes, they will accomplish great things in the future.