For the last 18 months, Michigan State swimmers and divers have fought tooth and nail for the continuation of their program.
Since former Athletic Director Bill Beekman announced in Oct 2020 that MSU’s swim and dive team would be eliminated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the program’s struggles, MSU Swim and Dive have done everything possible to keep its program relevant to the administration.
Over the last 540 days since the program was cut, there has been a steady stream of team members imploring the Board of Trustees to listen to them and reconsider, the women filed a Title IX lawsuit against the university. Members that stuck around this year won a national championship for the university as a part of the club swim and dive team.
MSU’s club swim and dive team won the 2022 College Club swimming national championship this past weekend in Atlanta with the help of over a dozen former varsity swimmers.
The Spartans won 20 individual events on their way to the overall crown, including six event wins from juniors Travis Nitkiewicz and Kasey Venn, five event wins from sophomore Stephan Freitag and four event wins from sophomore Sydney Kelly, all of whom were competing for the varsity team last year.
“The win really meant a lot because I can control how I swim individually, but that requires everybody to put forth a collective effort to get us that team win and that means a lot when everyone really cares and it shows that we're still a team — and that we're a competitive team,” Nitkiewicz said. “It should show (the university) that we, the varsity swimmers and divers, are still ready to compete. We're still here, we're still in shape enough to win at the club level, which means we're definitely in shape enough to compete at our own conference.”
The club swim and dive team received an influx of division one talent in the fall and start of the second semester as the former swimmers and divers looked for a way to stay active in the pool to stay ready in case the program was reinstated during the year. However, as their pleas continued to fall on deaf ears within MSU administration, they embraced the club team completely.
The team would practice four times a week at IM West, the same pool where MSU Swimming and Diving used to compete. The practices were individually led since there was no coach and did not have the same intensity as the former D1 swimmers were accustomed to from previous years of competing.
However, the difference in practice conditions did not hinder the former varsity swimmers’ mentality. Instead, they continued to work with Beekman’s message that the team wasn’t good enough ringing in their head during every practice or meet.
“I think the biggest adjustment is mindset,” Kelly said. “It was obviously really hard to be told by our administration that we weren't good athletes and so to kind of move past that and like to recognize that we are. I had seen the team would've scored at the Big Ten (meet) with the times that they went at Nationals and we were doing that on significantly less training.”
Venn said it was a difficult adjustment for her at first because she was still hurt from the spring and didn’t know if she wanted to compete again. As soon as the final varsity season ended, Venn started having negative feelings toward the sport she grew up in love with and did not return to the pool at IM West until she was given the opportunity to join the club team.
Venn joined to have something to occupy her free time now without the swimming team and quickly had her old competitive juices flowing when she was in the water. As the season progressed, Venn realized that she and the rest of the team had a chance to compete nationally with the times they were posting in the regular season and those feelings were vindicated Sunday.
“The club team was so welcoming,” Venn said. “They're all so nice and so genuine and it was actually so fun. We practice four times a week and just being able to win the Nationals, in the end, it was so cool.”
Now, for the varsity swimmers and divers, the painful waiting game resumes. MSU Athletics and administration have made little effort to meet with the athletes over the past 18 months to discuss a possible return of the program, despite Battle for MSU Swim & Dive, an alumni group fighting for the program’s reinstatement, raising $10 million to bring the team back.
The Title IX case is also still ongoing and returned to the district court to reconsider the team’s preliminary injunction, which would allow the women’s team to compete until the conclusion of the case.
The long wait continues, but MSU swimmers and divers added another tool to their argument this past weekend by winning the club national championship.
“The university should be impressed,” Venn said. “I mean, considering all we've been through mentally, we've had so many challenges. So, for so many of us to be able to show up there and pull out a win was incredible and we didn't even go into it with that mindset, to be honest. It was for fun, just to see what we could do.”
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