We have been on a wild ride this season with the football team. There were great expectations going into the season, but a couple close losses derailed those hopes. Then the Tennessee and TAMU games happened, and all hope seemed lost… But then Drinkwitz and Co. turned things around and rallied to a bowl game.
The Mizzou Athletics rollercoaster ride is not over, though, and a new one has just begun. Cuonzo Martin’s basketball team began their 2021-2022 season a couple weeks ago, and they have already thrown Mizzou fans for a loop with their play.
So, while most people pay attention to the football and basketball programs, let us take a deep breath and turn our attention towards a more successful aspect of the athletic department: the swim and dive program.
The Tigers came into the 2021-2022 season with high expectations, ranked no. 14 (men) and no. 20 (women) in the CSCAA poll. Danny Kovac (who will be discussed in more detail later) was named to the U.S. National Team, which features the top six athletes at each individual Olympic event from the qualifying period— January thru August 2021, in this case. Additionally, Kovac was one of seven All-Americans (one diver) who returned to the Tigers from a men’s team that finished 16th at the 2021 NCAA Championships. Conversely, the women’s team brought back six All-Americans from a squad that finished 18th at the NCAAs.
Experience and talent were abundant for both the men and women’s programs entering this 2021-2022 campaign.
The season began with the Show-Me Showdown in late September. The Tigers dominated the likes of Lindenwood, SLU, Truman State, and WashU, taking first place in all 26 events.
The Tigers then travelled to Dallas, Texas for the SMU Classic in early October. Both teams took third place overall at the event behind top-15 nationally ranked teams Michigan and Louisville, and were paced by stellar performances from Kovac and fellow senior Jack Dahlgren. Kovac and Dahlgren took home the Tigers’ only individual wins of the weekend in the 50 free and 100 fly (Kovac), 100 free (Dahlgren), and they both were a part of the winning 200 free relay. The women also victorious in the 200 free relay.
The team then travelled to West Lafayette, Ind. to try their hand against some Big Ten powers. Duals with No. 22 ranked (M) Purdue and No. 4 ranked (M/W) Michigan saw both teams defeat the Boilermakers, but fall handily to the Wolverines. Dahlgren and Kovac yet again took home multiple individual wins, as did senior Sarah Thompson, who leads the women’s team. She won both the 50 free and 100 fly, moving into third place all-time at Mizzou with a time of 52.16 in the 100 butterfly.
The team then hosted the Mizzou Invite from Nov. 17-19th. Teams such as Cal Baptist, Nebraska (women), San Jose State (women), Missouri S&T (men), Wyoming, North Carolina (dive), Iowa State (dive), BYU (dive), and Northern Iowa (dive) travelled to Columbia to compete at the beautiful Mizzou Aquatic Center.
Overall, both the men and women took home first place for Mizzou, with 28 event victories and 105 personal records over the three-day event.
Kovac broke his own 200 fly school record with a time of 1:40.78, which is also good for first in the nation in that event. He also came through in the 100 fly finals, setting a new national-best at 45.31.
Junior Ben Patton followed in his footsteps by setting the top national time for the 200 breast (1:53.00) as well as the 100 breast (50.51), while Dahlgren did the same in the 200 back with a time of 1:40.96. Those three combined with freshman Grant Bochenski to set the national best for the 400 free relay with their time of 2:50.75.
On the women’s side, Sarah Thompson yet again led the way with a new national-best in the 100 fly with a time of 51.44.
All in all, this team’s accomplishments are more than impressive. With the men now sitting at 9th overall in the country and the women 19th (via CSCAA Coaches Poll), these teams have the potential to finish among the best in the nation when this season is over.
Kovac was already a bonafide phenom before the season started, and he has only backed that up thus far. He was named SEC Male Swimmer of the Week back in October, and he can easily win that award a couple more times before things are all said and done.
Dahlgren has proven to be a quality second star for this men’s team, while freshman Grant Bochenski has been a pleasant surprise. Both of them earned SEC honors recently, with Dahlgren winning Male Swimmer of the Week while Bochenski winning Freshman of the Week honors. Patton has also really come alive in recent events and is another budding star on the men’s side.
However, Sarah Thompson may have them all beat when it comes to accolades. She has been the SEC’s Female Swimmer of the Week twice this season, defeating Michigan’s Olympic & World Championship gold medalist, Maggie MacNeil, in the 50 free in the process. She has now been named SEC Female Swimmer of the Week four separate times in her career.
Looking ahead, following a strong showing at the Mizzou Invite, the Tigers will travel to Springfield, Mo. for a dual against Missouri State this weekend, Dec. 4th. After winter break, Mizzou will host a ranked Louisville squad in early January and then travel to the other (worse) Columbia for a late-January dual with the Gamecocks.
After the Ohio State Winter Invite Feb. 11-13, the SEC Championships take place Feb. 15-19 in Knoxville, Tenn. SEC powers Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee are all ranked in the top 15 for both men and women and will make be the main competition as that comes around. (Editor’s Fun Fact: Multi-time Olympic medalist Katie Ledecky is currently serving as a volunteer assistant as she trains with the Gators). After a last chance meet at home to get NCAA q-times in late February, the NCAA Championships follow in late March in Atlanta, Ga..
So, although football and basketball are the breadwinners for the university, this swim and dive program deserves more attention than they are receiving. The Tigers have the potential to be one of the top finishers at the SEC Championships and do some real damage at the NCAAs if they continue to improve.
On top of that, Kovac, Dahlgren, and Thompson have potential to be in the next wave of Mizzou Olympians. When Paris 2024 comes around, be sure to have an eye and an ear out for these names.