For The Signal
By Mason Nesbitt
Journey Werner sensed that she was breathing harder than normal. So, The Master’s University freshman reminded herself to calm down as she watched the final stages of the school’s first-ever intercollegiate swim race unfold.
The excitement was justified.
Freshman Simone Williams touched first, completing TMU’s 200-yard medley relay better than six seconds under the NAIA’s championship cut.
The Mustangs were sure to make history Saturday at Soka University of America in Orange County simply by entering the pool. In the end, they made nationals.
By Monday, Werner’s enthusiasm had not waned.
“It was mind-boggling,” she said of watching Williams come to the wall, finishing what Werner, Ali Perez and Caroline Barnett had started.
The Mustangs’ time was 2 minutes, 3.37 seconds. They weren’t finished.
Barnett, Faith Cancik, Williams and Werner swam the 200-freestyle relay in 1:50.53, again more than enough to punch a ticket to NAIA swim nationals in Columbus, Georgia, next month.
Riley Buenaventura finished second in both the 50 free and 100 free for TMU’s men, which lost 71-11 to Soka due to a lack of depth, an issue expected to be less evident next season after a few recent signings.
The Lady Mustangs fell 107-85, but climbed higher than might have been expected this early.
“We couldn’t be more encouraged with our first meet,” said Gabe Woodward, TMU’s director of aquatics and a bronze medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics. “We have a team that’s worked hard and supported each other.”
Barnett, a freshman, said Saturday’s efforts provided a baseline for the program’s progress in Year 1. “We know where we’re building from,” she said.
For her part, Barnett will work in the coming weeks to lower her times in the 50 free, 100 free and 100 butterfly. She won all three events Saturday, narrowly missing NAIA cuts.
She’ll get her next opportunity in mid-February when the Mustangs compete at the Pacific Collegiate Swim and Dive Conference Championships in La Mirada, California.
The conference includes the likes of Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount and Biola.
For Barnett, the competition will be the next in a long line of them since she arrived in Newhall this fall. A dual-sport athlete, Barnett played for the Mustang women’s soccer team, appearing in 10 games and making one start.
She had to push through 5 a.m. swim practices and afternoon soccer workouts, finally resting over Christmas break. She says she returned to school for the spring semester feeling rejuvenated.
She also sees the big picture.
Barnett said it’s motivating knowing she’s part of group that is laying the foundation of a new program.
Werner felt it too. Asked where the program goes from Saturday when it announced its presence with two national-qualifying relays, she said the program’s focus was on expanding, highlighting the recent signings of two male swimmers and the program’s first diver.
The new arrivals will have the benefit of working with a head coach who has been a big hit with his athletes over the last five month.
Of Bryon Davis, an eight-time All-American at UCLA, Barnett said, “He’s been amazing. He’s dedicated to the team inside and outside the pool. He knows how to push us while making it enjoyable to work that hard, to push ourselves to the limit.”
How does he do that?
“Encouragement,” Barnett said. “He makes you believe the only thing holding you back is you.”