Wisconsin Swimming & Diving Starts New Era in New Facility

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Wisconsin's brand new facility welcomed the team on Thursday after a long wait. Photo Courtesy: Yuri Suguiyama

Wisconsin swimming and diving opened a new era on Thursday by hosting its first official practice in their brand new facility, the Soderholm Family Aquatic Center, that had been under construction for a few years.

The pool was set to be completed in 2019, but construction delays pushed the official opening date to the spring of 2020, which of course was affected by the COVID-19 closures.

“It’s been one delay after the other but when I worked at Iowa, Marc (Long) was always like, ‘whenever they tell you it will finish, add a year for a construction process this big,'” said current Wisconsin assistant Kristy Brager. “It’s been hard because it was almost entirely ready to go in the spring and then with the virus, there was a European company that was supposed to come in and finish and they were on a travel ban. So watching it sit there was definitely really hard but we weren’t practicing anyway. It has been fun to watch it come along. A lot of generations of Badgers have been excited about this pool.”

The aquatic center was undergoing some last minute chemical testings to make sure the pool was behaving like a normal pool should, with adequate chlorine levels and making sure the air quality was where it needed to be. The Wisconsin team had been holding socially distanced team practices at an outdoor pool in Shorewood as well as in Ridgewood since school started, anxiously awaiting for the day to officially jump in their new indoor facility.

Wisconsin swimming and diving is starting a new era, as Yuri Suguiyama enters his third year at the helm in Madison. Already in his tenure, the Badgers have seen tremendous success out of Beata Nelson, who won three events at the 2019 NCAAs, becoming just the second Badger woman to stand at the top of the podium at NCAAs. 2020 was expected to be an encore performance for the senior Nelson, but the championships were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Nelson’s mark was still felt by the Wisconsin community.

The Badgers won the 800 free relay at the Big Ten women’s championships this season for the first relay conference title under Suguiyama’s watch, as the women’s team finished in fifth place overall.

And Wisconsin will be welcoming one of the top recruits in last year’s class, Phoebe Bacon out of Nation’s Capital Swim Club, who was one of the top 100 backstrokers in the world in 2019, and also the national high school record holder in that event.

The Wisconsin men finished fourth at this year’s Big Ten meet, and qualified four swimmers individually to NCAAs, while the women qualified three. Not bad for training in a small 25-yard pool.

But now the Badgers enter a new era in a 50 meter pool, which will be an attractive dime to show off to recruits.

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New diving towers. Photo Courtesy: Kristy Brager

“It was definitely a game changer to help everybody see the vision that Yuri had with the staff for what we wanted and the program that we wanted,” Brager said. “In the same breath, we were trying to be mindful that we had success without it; just being really appreciative of the fact that in this time they have put an investment to building us a facility like that. It’s also a reminder that yes it will be great, but it doesn’t make you great to have that facility.

“So in keeping that, we did what we needed to do in the Nat for two years so what are we going to do now to keep that momentum going and keep everyone really grateful and appreciative? Instead of, ‘oh it is about time!’ That’s going to be a big piece: how do we make sure our student-athletes stay really grateful as we get more and more years in? I think everyone will be really appreciative this year.”

Having a long course facility with more space to specialize will be beneficial for the coaches and swimmers alike, allowing more long course training so the athletes can better prepare for Olympic Trials and Nationals. Along with Bacon, the Badgers also have national champ Ally McHugh training post-grad in Madison, along with Australian Cam Tysoe, a multi-NCAA qualifier for Wisconsin swimming and diving. And the divers also now have a full tower set, with the ability to train on a 10m platform, rather than travel to another facility.

“I know Yuri wants to incorporate long course mostly in the mornings because I think we would go long course almost every morning that we swim,” Brager said. “That’s the one piece that we’ve had a hard time. We definitely want a presence at nationals and at Trials and on the national team and that is a big goal for our program to always have a presence there. Having the facility to attract the student athletes that want that as well will be a big piece.

“We made due with what we had but it will be nice to incorporate that more frequently. We were really limited on time at the Nat with only eight short course lanes and it was hard to fit our whole team all at once. We would have to stagger and we are excited to take some more time to focus on details and have some more technology available for us so that’s a big piece we are looking forward to too.”

With no official meets on the calendar, Wisconsin swimming and diving will need to wait some time before welcoming back alumni and donors to celebrate the opening of the new pool, as well as giving an opportunity to any former Badgers to swim a lap in the facility. The aquatic center will also now be in the running to host a Big Ten Championships, whenever it will be safe to hold large gatherings at swim meets again.

All in all, Wisconsin is officially welcoming a new era in the Soderholm Family Aquatic Center.

 

4 comments

  1. Nicole Josephs

    Now hoping that they don’t cancel the swimming program! The Madison area is in a huge COVID hotbed

  2. avatar
    Jon Morrison

    UW has practiced at Shorewood Pool in the past, but since the Shorewood Pool didn’t open this year, they moved their outdoor practices to Ridgewood Pool. I saw UW swimmers at Ridgewood almost every day this summer.

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