Relay Keys Cowboy Swimming Team Success

Feb. 17, 2005


After a spectacular fall season of University of Wyoming sports, topped off with a win by the Cowboy football team in the Vegas Bowl, UW fans are looking for the next sport to cheer for. Both the Cowboy and Cowgirls basketball team have been surprising in the Mountain West Conference to this point in the season, but a little known fact around campus is that the UW swimming and diving teams have also been doing well. In fact, one swimmer has already clinched a spot in the NCAA Championships, and several others, junior Gene Birks, sophomore Ron Fogel and freshman Carl Marais, are on the verge. The lone NCAA qualifier to this point is none other than recent Olympian Scott Usher. Usher and the rest of the Cowboy swim team have been in and out of the top 25 teams in the NCAA this season. One of the biggest reasons for Wyoming's success is the 200 and 400 medley relay team, which has been swimming consistently well this year.

So who are the members of this team? This year's Cowboy medley relay consists of Marais a freshman from Pretoria, South Africa, who swims the backstroke; team captain Birks, a junior from Bryon Bay, Australia, who swims the butterfly; team captain Grant Kritzinger, a senior from Johannesburg, South Africa, who swims the freestyle; and Usher, also a team captain and the only American, from Grand Island, Neb. Usher has already qualified for the NCAA meet in the breaststroke which sends him to the NCAA championship for the third straight year.

The team has achieved a "B" cut (3:17.81) in the 400 medley relay, which is currently the 16th fastest time in the nation.

"What these guys have done already this season is remarkable," said University of Wyoming head coach Tom Johnson. "They have set school and pool records, reached the top-15 in the nation and gotten an NCAA "B" cut."

The reason it is so important for the relay team to qualify for the NCAA Championship is that if they do, then each individual has the opportunity to race in the national championship as well, without necessarily qualifying as individuals. That means extra swimmers competing for Wyoming at the NCAA Championship and potentially scoring team points. Wyoming has sent relay teams to the NCAA meet in the past, but not in over 15 years.

As Coach Johnson put it, "In order to get into the NCAA's we have to be one of the top-12 teams in the nation in either the 200 or 400 medley relay. We have to have everybody hot at the same time. It is going to be tough because we are dealing with the top swimming programs in the nation like USC, Texas, Auburn and so on. Our margin of error is very small; we need to have our relay exchanges as close to zero as possible and we have to have everyone hot at the same time. Each one of those guys needs to get a little faster."

The future looks bright for the UW swim team, as they head into the MWC Swimming and Diving Championships, February 23-26. This could be the season, if everyone steps up, that a record number of Cowboys compete at the NCAA meet and earn Wyoming national swimming recognition.