The Idaho swimming and diving team will face a familiar foe today as they battle Palouse rival Washington State in Pullman. It marks the last regular season meet for the Vandals before they head to San Antonio for the Western Athletic Conference Championships Feb. 27-Mar. 3. Idaho, 4-4 in dual meets this season, will try to defeat the Cougars for the second year in a row. They are also looking to bounce back from last weekend’s 119-143 loss to another Pac-12 opponent, Oregon State.
“We’re always excited to go against Pac-12 teams because we feel as though we’re the underdog,” senior Kelsie Saxe said. “It’s always fun to go against somebody that’s a challenge and that you’re not expected to win against.”
Coach Mark Sowa said that despite the loss to OSU, there were several positives he took away from that meet.
“We were a little disappointed with the outcome of this past weekend, but when you take a step back and take some stock of what we actually did, there were a lot of really good things that happened (last) weekend despite coming up short,” Sowa said.
Among the positives were the first-place finishes sophomore Rachel Millet garnered in the 100-yard freestyle, 200 freestyle and 200 individual medley. Those wins earned Millet her third WAC Swimmer of the Week award. Freshman Jamie Sterbis won the 100 and 200 butterfly and junior Sammi Mischkot took first in the 200 backstroke.
Saxe, who placed second in the 100 and 200 backstroke, said in order to beat the Cougars, it will be crucial that every swimmer finish each race strong.
“I think the key to doing well in this meet is making sure that everyone gets involved,” Saxe said. “Whenever we can get a second place finish or a third place finish, we make sure that we finish the end of our races and get those key points that aren’t always the first place finishers.”
Idaho will be going against a competitive WSU team, which is 4-5 on the season and is coming off a victory against Oregon State last Friday.
“That team’s going to be ready for us,” Sowa said. “They didn’t beat us last year. So I think they remember that, probably. So I know they’ll be well prepared and they’re well coached.”
WSU is coached by former Idaho coach Tom Jager. Jager began coaching at Idaho when the swim program was reinstated in 2004, but he left when he was hired by the Cougars in 2011.
Sowa said he is grateful for inheriting the swimmers Jager recruited and developed.
“I want to thank him,” Sowa said. “He brought in some really great athletes and some really great kids that I get to work with. He spent a lot of time here and built a really good program and I was lucky to be able to take over that a little over a year and a half ago.”
Sowa said there is no added motivation to beat the Cougars given the coaching situation. Regardless, he said the team will treat this like any other meet.
“We don’t need extra motivation to go fast,” Sowa said. “We want to go fast no matter who’s coaching.”
The same year Jager was hired, the Cougars also hired former Idaho assistant Adriana Quirke.
Quirke said that for her and Jager, coaching for the rival of their former school is “definitely something that we think about,” but she said the focus Friday will be on their swimmers.
“It’s definitely a unique situation and there are a lot of emotions involved, but it’s all about the student-athletes,” Quirke said.
Quirke said she occasionally runs into her former swimmers around town and she “couldn’t be happier for them” in regard to their progress at Idaho.
After Friday’s meet, the Cougars will have two more regular season meets while Idaho will begin preparing for the WAC Championships.
Saxe said the team will be ready for the championship no matter how the Vandals fare this weekend.
“We’re going to use this momentum however we swim this weekend to carry us into WAC and we know no matter win or lose, we’re focused on WAC and we know that we’re going to be at our peak at that point,” Saxe said.
The divers will not compete on Friday. The meet will take place at Gibb Pool on the WSU campus at 5p.m.
Anthony Kuipers can be reached at email@example.com