The swimming and diving season starts Saturday at Boise State for a young Idaho team that features 14 freshmen on its 37-athlete roster.“We’ve got a lot of newcomers, but we also have a lot of kids that have been through this now for a couple years,” Idaho coach Mark Sowa said. “What’s nice is we’ve seen progression year by year with our kids continuing to get better, continuing to develop their skills, continuing to become better racers.”
This is the third consecutive season that the Vandals have opened up against in-state rival Boise State. Last year, Idaho fell to the Broncos 210-90 at the UI Swim Center. But despite annually playing a rival Bronco team, the Vandals don’t see this meet different than any other.
“I wouldn’t consider them any different than any other team,” said junior Rachel Millet, Idaho’s all-time record leader with seven individual and relay records. “Every opponent is a rival. To me, it’s not really any different. We still have to have the same approach to everything.”
Last season, Millet won the 100 and 200-yard freestyle against Boise State. She also won the 200-yard individual medley.
The only other Vandal to win against Boise State last season was WAC Diver of the Year, Paige Hunt. Hunt, a senior who holds three Vandal diving records, won the 3-meter dive by almost 23 points against the Broncos in 2012. Millet and Hunt are two of the veterans that will be looked to as leaders for the Vandals this season.
“I feel like some of the younger girls can talk to me and trust me,” Hunt said. “Sometimes it is nice to have someone who is older than you just to look up to. It’s my fourth year … so it’s nice for them to come to someone who actually does know what’s going on, and if they have any questions or concerns, they can ask away.”
In addition to the freshmen, Sowa has another newcomer on his team this season. Kelly Gufford joined Sowa’s staff over the summer as the new diving coach for the Vandals. Gufford brings experience from the American School for Diving where she worked under 2012 U.S. Olympic head coach Drew Johansen.
Millet and Hunt bring star power to the team but Sowa said sometimes the team falls into the trap of relying on them too much.
“The way we’re going to win a championship is through depth,” Sowa said. “We need to develop that and hopefully that’s what we’ll do with all these new freshmen.”
Sowa might have that depth this year with many new freshmen and only two graduated seniors gone from a Vandal team that broke 12 school records and finished 25th in the collegeswimming.com mid-major poll. But the Broncos are a formidable opponent that finished second at the Mountain West Conference championships last spring.
“We talk about competing constantly and it’s something we say we value,” Sowa said. “It’s not about a rivalry, it’s about a chance to compete.”
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org