By Kat Riddler, Editor-In-Chief
It might not be widely known on campus as yet, but the University of Missouri-St. Louis has a men’s and women’s swimming and diving team once again. Men’s swimming and diving was initially added in 1971 and women’s in 1977. Both of the programs were eliminated in the 1995-1996 season before being reinstated in 2014-2015.
With the program still in its infancy, Triton swimming athletes worked hard to represent UMSL last season. Diogo Dias, sophomore, won UMSL’s first Great Valley Lake’s Conference championship gold medal in the 100-yard backstroke last year. Dias is from Brazil and came to UMSL because one of his friends was on the swim team as well.
UMSL had others participating in the A-finals of the men’s 100-yard backstroke and one in the B-finals at the GLVC championship. Radoslaw Chupka, sophomore, business administration, was fifth, while Niccholas Ruiz, sophomore, business administration, was seventh and Alvaro Zaragaoza, sophomore, business marketing was 14th.
In women’s swimming, Amber Visser, freshman, criminology and criminal justice, set a school record of 1:08.51 in the 100-yard breaststroke, and two school records for the 200-yard individual medley. Tatiana Vanegas set a new school record in the 1000-yard freestyle at the GLVC championships. And the women’s relay team of Angiel Quiroga, sophomore, biology; Fatima Benbatti, freshman; Visser, and Marina Villoch, sophomore, biochemistry and biotechnology, set a new school record of 1:52.46.
Head Coach Tomas Kuzvard was brought to UMSL to coach both the men’s and women’s teams when they were reinstated. The teams are made up of people from all over the world. Just last year they had students from nine different countries and their alumni come from all over the United States. They even had swimmers from China according to Kuzvard.
Kuzvard is very proud of all the hard work his teams put in last year. Kuzvard said, “It is always a special feeling when I see an athlete succeed. This was obviously a huge accomplishment for Diogo, our program, and our swimmers. Anything is possible, and I know that others will be aiming really high this season as well.”
Kuzvard has an amazing swimming record himself. A native of the Czech Republic, Kuzvard was a nine-time NCAA Division II National Champion and a 21-time All-American at Drury University, where he swam from 2006 to 2009. Kuzvard was a two-time National Champion in the 200-yard individual medley in 2007 and 2008 and also won national titles in the 200-yard backstroke in 2007, the 400-yard individual medley in 2007, and was on five national champion team relays. He was a member of the Czech National Team from 1996 to 2005 and won multiple Czech National Champion titles in long course and short course in the events of 100-yard backstroke, 200-yard backstroke, 200-yard individual medley (IM) and 400-yard IM. Kuzvard also participated in the European Swimming Championships, Summer Universidad Games, World Military Games, and the International Swimming Federation (FINA) Swimming World Cup. Kuzvard said, “I have always loved what swimming was providing to me in return. Competitive swimming is one of the toughest sports out there, but the experience of conquering challenges, and becoming a better version of yourself is definitely worth of that.”
Kuzvard was a graduate assistant coach at Drury and an assistant coach at Ohio Northern before he came to UMSL. Coaching swimming is very important to him. “Well, some people participate in sports basically for fun, some constantly striving to challenge their minds and bodies. As a coach I am responsible for helping those involved and increasing our chance of succeeding,” Kuzvard said. “I build my coaching on strong relationships with our athletes, build on mutual trust and respect.”
Describing his coaching style Kuzvard observed, “I use variety of coaching styles, it depends on the specific situation. Here at UMSL I have been coaching both the men and women all together. That requires a slightly different approach for each individual student-athlete. However, the goal is to help our student-athletes to find ways how to balance the academics and sports in order to successfully reach their individual and team goals.”
A typical season consists of dual meets as well as additional meets featuring three or more teams. The season is typically in the early spring semester, but practice starts in the fall semester.
There are a variety of competitions on the college level. There are individual competitions and relays with different strokes including freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. Distances can vary from 50 to 1,650 yards. Diving competitions are judged at one and three meter heights. Divers are awarded points to a team based on individual’s finishing score at an event.
Tomas Kuzvard is hopeful for this next season. He said, “Building on the experience from the last year. Working closely with our Alumni, continuing to develop connections with local swim clubs, YMCA, communities, and High Schools. With this year’s group of swimmers, I feel really inspired and feeling very positive about the development. We all need to be aware of the program’s beginning phase. We have only two seasons behind us, and there is still a very long way ahead of this program.”
The men’s and women’s swim team started their first full week of conditioning and routines this past week. Students are encouraged to set up an in-person meeting with Head Coach Tomas Kuzvard by calling 314-516-5752 or emailing email@example.com to get familiar with conditions to participate in the tryouts from August 31 to September 7. Tryouts take place September 6 through 9 at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. and September 9 through 16 at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.