By Kirk Jessome
Looking to continue their historic run conference championship wins, the Tigers men’s swim team went after their 21st consecutive conference title this season.
Working with a fairly young roster, the Tigers showed development quickly, picking up team wins in hard-fought battles at the Jack Scholz Memorial and Mount Allison Invitational meets.
The Tigers hosted their annual Kemp-Fry Invitational at Dalplex in November, and they were primed to start posting some U SPORTS-qualifying times.
The first day of competition saw rookie backstroker Christian Payne make a name for himself, earning his first national qualification the 50m event. Not to be outdone, Alec Karlsen hit his mark in the 200m and 400m individual medley events, as did Tyler Immel-Herron in the 100m backstroke.
The Tigers collective performance placed them ahead of their conference rivals, but second behind a very strong McGill team. Head coach Lance Cansdale says those experiences helped his young team.
“The experience gained swimming against teams like McGill can only help in our swimmers’ development in understanding that they can compete against some of the best in the country. Every race against a quality field is one more experience to take with them to their peak opportunities.”
The Tigers took those experiences with them into the AUS championship as heavy favourites, and they didn’t disappoint.
Christian Payne got the first win for the Tigers in the 100m backstroke in a U SPORTS-qualifying time, while Immel-Herron (400m freestyle) and Karlsen (200m IM) also took wins in their respective events to help give the Tigers a commanding 100 point advantage.
Payne and Karlsen earned three more gold medals between them, complemented by wins from Immel-Herron and captain Mckenzie Holden in the final race of his career.
Cansdale says that his team performed beyond his expectations to win their 21st consecutive title.
“After a close call last year, we were ready to face the challenge from the other swim teams in the conference,” he says. “A number of lifetime-best swims, and Christian and Alec sweeping rookie and male swimmer of the meet awards, the team exceeded my expectations.”
At the national championships, Payne put together a fantastic performance to finish fifth in the 50m backstroke with a lifetime-best swim. Strong performances from Karlsen who was 11th in the 400m IM and Geraint Berger, who was 12th in the 50m freestyle earned the Tigers 134 points and a 13th place finish.
Looking ahead to next season, Cansdale says there will be a change in expectation.
“A top-10 finish would be great, but re-establishing our depth and relay dominance needs to happen first. We need to establish a culture of focus, improvement and an expectation of success. Once that is part of our team’s character, then I feel that we can reach for a top-10 performance at nationals.”