New aquatic center for SMU swim, dive
A large white tent covers SMU’s outdoor Barr pool located across from Binkley Garage. On the inside, dim lights shine from the top of the structure and the air is warm enough to make you sweat. Swimmers submerged in the foggy water swim laps in the dark and damp facility.
This pool is the temporary training facility for the nationally recognized SMU men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams.
But soon, the teams will be racing in a brand new building. SMU broke ground on the new Robson and Lindley Aquatics Center on Feb. 26, marking the beginning of the construction process for the program’s new facility.
“It’s honestly a relief that it’s finally happening,” said Jake Camp, a sophomore swimmer on the men’s team. “There has been a lot of talk and revisions and deadlines pushed back, so it’s nice to know that it’s finally happening.”
The facility will house both the men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs and will also be open to the community. The 42,000-square-foot facility will include an Olympic-sized, eight-lane indoor pool, a platform diving well, men’s and women’s team locker rooms, coaches offices, and seating for 800 spectators. The center is set to be completed for the 2017-2018 swim and dive season.
The teams have been practicing in the Barr pool for the last two seasons after Perkins Natatorium, the old training facility, was demolished in August 2014. They currently use the community bathrooms for the Barr pool as locker rooms and battle other issues that a permanent aquatic center would provide.
“Sometimes the humidity and fog are so bad inside the tent that we can’t even see the backstroke flags above the pool,” said Christian Scherubl, a sophomore swimmer on the men’s team.
Scherubl said he’s looking forward to the new facility and being able to compete in it during his final season.
“We are going to host the conference championships too, so hopefully we can bring home a conference win in a real pool,” said Scherubl.
The women’s swimming and diving program has won 17 conference championships in the last 20 years, including two back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016. The men’s team has had 18 NCAA appearances in the last 20 seasons.
The swimmers’ average day begins with a two-hour 6 a.m. practice in the tent-covered Barr pool, followed by a minimum 12-hour class load, and wraps up with a second two-hour practice in the afternoon. The balance between practice, academics, and competition is already demanding, but the lack of an adequate facility makes training for the SMU swimming and diving programs more challenging.
The coaching staff is also excited about the new facility not only for training, but also for the help it will provide in recruiting. The SMU diving team currently drives 30 minutes to practice every day, so having a home facility right across the street will add be a big perk for recruitment.
“Right now it’s hard to convince high school students to commit to that kind of practice schedule, so the new facility will help with recruiting so much more,” said Ashley Dell, assistant coach for the women’s team.
For some of the swimmers, though, the tent-covered pool and lack of sufficient equipment didn’t hinder their decision to compete for the Mustangs.
El Yellin, a freshman swimmer, said that being from California made her used to swimming in an outdoor pool, even though the tent took some getting used to.
“As a walk-on, I made the choice to come here,” said Yellin. “Not having a true facility didn’t ruin anything for me. I wanted to come here.”
Having to practice in a dark and humid facility can sometimes be dreadful, but knowing there are other swimmers and divers working for the same goal is what several say motivates them every day, she said.
“Looking at the girls in the lanes next to me is the easiest way to get motivated,” said Yellin.
“Our ultimate goal is to win conference,” said Camp. “No one cares about or takes into consideration the fact that we don’t have a facility, so we just have to work as hard as we can and we all have that same mentality.”
Between their classroom studies and intense practices, the teams always find a way to slip in a little fun and humor to make training more bearable.
“This team has such a unique funk to it,” said Tara-Lynn Nicholas, a swimmer on the women’s team. “The freshman this year have brought in their own sense of humor and it just lightens everything up.”