As Stanford’s campus slowly filled up with faces new and old adjusting back into life on The Farm, a group of students had already settled in, well before the sun rose on the first day of the fall quarter — among them, the ‘residents’ of the Avery Aquatic Center.
And while some coaches and athletes may be more than content with recent success, great ones know there is always more to strive for, to improve upon, to achieve.
That is what keeps the Stanford men’s and women’s swimming & diving programs in the upper echelons of the sport, as they aim to make waves and build on the successes of their record-breaking 2021-22 seasons.
For the Cardinal men — guided by the Goldman Family Director of Men’s Swimming, Dan Schemmel — last year’s seventh-place performance at the NCAA Championship meet with 231 points marked a stark improvement from even the prior season’s 14th-place finish. The men’s team finished runner-up in the Pac-12 Championship meet for the second year in a row, even claiming a dual meet victory over heavy conference rival and eventual NCAA champion Cal as part of their five top-25 wins in an undefeated regular season. Six titles for the men’s swimming & diving team at Pac-12s were followed by the first Cardinal individual NCAA champion since 2017 as then-sophomore Andrei Minakov led throughout to charge home with the 100-yard butterfly gold in 43.71 seconds. Stanford records tumbled as the men brought home 14 All-America honors from NCAAs to close their 2021-22 chapter in style.
As he enters his fourth season in charge, Schemmel is equally full of praise and optimism for his squad’s performances last season and their standing coming into the 2022-23 season ahead.
While it was surely difficult to highlight just one favorite moment from an undefeated regular season and strong championship meets all around, it was the Cardinals’ close-fought victory over Cal in their last dual meet of the year that stuck out to Schemmel — a victory he made sure to note was a “full team effort,” touting Stanford’s strong divers’ contributions to the team’s overall triumph.
“It actually came down to the last leg of the last relay,” he recalled, describing exactly the kind of down-to-the-wire finish that sports fans the world over long for. “We ended up winning it, so we won the meet — I would say from a team perspective, that was a very special moment.”
Asked if this season’s rematches with their Berkeley-based counterparts — slated for Nov. 4 at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center and Feb. 18 at Cal’s Legends Aquatic Center — was their most anticipated matchup this season, Schemmel acknowledged the rivalry’s competitiveness. He also noted that he and his team look forward to facing another swimming powerhouse on Jan. 20.
“I think another one that we’re looking forward to is our dual meet with Arizona State. They’ve got one of the best swimmers in the world on the team,” he said about Sun Devil Leon Marchand. “And they’ll be a formidable opponent this year — so those would be the two dual meets I think we’re looking forward to the most.”
As for when Stanford’s finest hit the water again for their season opener: the hope will be to get off the starting blocks in style with a home win against Utah on Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. PT.
Looking at the season ahead, the team’s coach is filled with optimism based both on their improvements over the 2021-22 season as well as a strong recruitment of incoming swimmers. In terms of how their roster has shaped up, Schemmel remarked, “All around, our depth is being improved… some stroke swimmers, some IM’ers [individual medley swimmers] — so I would say every stroke and distance is covered.”
In fact, as noted by the coach himself, SwimSwam (one of the world’s top aquatic sports publications) ranked Stanford at an impressive 3rd amongst all collegiate programs in their official recruiting class rankings for this year. The Cardinal bolstered their rank with three of the top 10 nationally-ranked recruits in distance powerhouse Liam Custer, versatile breaststroke star Zhier Fan and IM/backstroke specialist Josh Zuchowski. The latter two bring invaluable international experience, as they competed for Team USA at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships this summer.
The Cardinal’s other new prospects — Henry Morrissey (distance), Hayden Kwan (backstroke), Andres Dupont Cabrera (freestyle), Rafael Gu (freestyle) and US National Team diver Peyton Donald — should, as Schemmel hopes, give the Cardinal the versatility and depth to build on last season’s momentum with a squad that has already proved their capability to compete with the country’s best.
Schemmel also made clear his appreciation for his swimmers becoming ‘resilient and adaptable’ over a tumultuous last couple of COVID-interrupted seasons, and for Stanford itself.
“We’re incredibly grateful for the support that we’ve gotten through the athletics department and the university over the past few years while navigating the pandemic,” he said. “We were under probably among the strictest set of guidelines there for a while, but still have been able to largely have the team here to set them up for whatever those past seasons were going to look like. That’s definitely something that has had a trickle-down effect into last year and now this year. So I think without their support, we wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in now to have a great season.”
He continued on about the team’s approach for the upcoming year. “You can’t control your opponents — only what you do day in and day out, and how you perform,” Schemmel said — words which the Cardinal men will surely live by as they prepare for a promising 2022-23 season.