Winter 2004
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TCU Magazine "Riff Ram"

Pool of thought

The H20 Frogs have earned a reputation for hitting the books as hard as their practice laps.

By Rick Waters '95

It's 3 p.m. on a fall afternoon and a couple of Richard Sybesma's swim team members are not in the pool.

In fact, they're not even at practice.

They're in the library, studying for an exam they'll have to take early because the team will be traveling to Missouri for a dual meet at the end of the week.

As for those laps, TCU's 25-year swim coach is not worried. The absentees already swam them this morning.

At 6 a.m.

It's one of the ways Coach Sybesma and his staff switch practice times around to accommodate academics.

Make that emphasize academics.

If a team member has a test, or needs to study for one, they better get to it. They'll have to make up their laps and weight training on their own time.

The team wouldn't have it any other way.

"My kids never ask to miss practice, only adjust the regimen," Sybesma said. "They're all very committed to putting in the work."

It's difficult to argue with the results.

Last spring, the men's and women's squads both earned Academic all-American status, as granted by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America, a distinction that requires a grade point average of at least 2.8. The women far surpassed the cutoff with a 3.03, while the men were comfortably above it with a 2.94.

And they are on their way to the same honor this fall. If the women get it, it will be for the 26th consecutive time.

"It is something we are very proud of, something we are recognized for," said senior Lisa Champ, a movement science and health/fitness double major. "It's kind of nice to be known for something."

And it's not a point the coaching staff has to remind them of, said senior Tiffany Strawn, also a movement science and health/fitness double major.

"They aren't drilling it to us every day. It's a tradition that existed when we got here as freshmen, and we've wanted to maintain it and teach the new freshmen to do the same," she said.

Sybesma agrees: "We shouldn't have to remind them. That's why they're here. To get a degree and swim.

"The word student-athlete ... our program really exemplifies that. I always have believed that success breeds success. Both in the pool and in the classroom."

Swimming, in general, builds a sense of responsibility, senior Joe Covey said.

"As an individual sport, it requires you to be personally dedicated to your own success. No one else is going to wake you up early for practice or to lift weights," he said.

"It requires a dedication that translates to the classroom," said senior Craig Chapman. "We follow routines in the pool to be more consistent and more efficient swimmers. It's the same thing in the classroom. We follow routines to be good students."

Covey and Chapman live together with teammates Kenneth Wherry, Andy Donovan, Scott McCure and Rilus Graham. Together, they help one another out, offering reminders about tests, comparing notes, sharing tips about assignments and professors.

Champ and Strawn have both made the dean's list multiple times and are members of Golden Key Honor Society.

None say there is pressure to earn a perfect 4.0, although Strawn did last year.

"There is no pressure to get a certain grade or to keep the streak alive," Strawn said. "We are just encouraged to do our best and that's all we can ask of ourselves."

In the pool, both squads are excelling. Last season, both were Conference USA champions, a first for the program. The men have been tops in the league the last three seasons.

Sybesma says it is a unique position for the team, but he expects them to respond. So far, they have. The women are 7-1 and men are 3-2 in dual meets. When conference season starts, they'll be the favorites.

"We're the team to beat this year," Sybesma said. "We've never faced that. There is a lot of pride and responsibility that comes with that."

Just like hitting the books.