GEORGETOWN, Texas – On the last sunny day before the rain overtook central Texas, Blink 182 could be heard blaring outside the Corbin J. Robertson center from the loud speakers in the Walzel Natatorium.
Inside, the Southwestern University Pirates men's and women's swim teams swam laps uniformly, the festive music in the atmosphere belying the stoic work being put in inside the water.
"It's a long season," Head Coach Jon Duncan explained, referring to a year that stretches from October through the end of February. "I think one thing that defines our program is we have fun. We want our swimmers to be happy.
"I'm a pretty goofy coach. We get the music going, have fun and work hard as a team and as a coaching staff."
There's a grace to swimming and diving that fits into Coach Duncan's philosophy, with muscles tensely straining below the surface while up top, the movement through the water suggesting serenity and ease. Last season, the Pirate men rode this ethos to a second-place finish at the SCAC Championships. The women placed third.
Around the pool, there's a joy that can be heard by students passing by. Sophomore Rehgan Hartsell attributes that to her success as a freshman last year, earning the 2018 SCAC Women's Conference Swimmer of the Meet—a first for the university, men or women—by winning the 200 Breaststroke with a SCAC Meet record of 2:20.52, setting two other SCAC records, and earning a trip to the NCAA Championships.
"Last year was fun with how much my teammates supported me," Hartsell said. "I have so many new friends and family to help support me through the ups and downs. It was more important than how fast we swam."
It is the hope that culture creates continuity, especially on the men's side, where the Pirates graduated five seniors last year and welcome 15 freshmen.
"Right now, we're really working on having our freshmen come together and having our upperclassmen making them feel welcome to the program so far as practices, athletics, and the Southwestern University way of life," Duncan said. "We had our intersquad meet last weekend and I think they did a really good job competing and we're looking forward to Austin College this coming weekend."
This year, the men's swim team has just one senior, Peter Robinson. He's a good senior to have, though, coming off a 200 Freestyle win at the SCAC Championship Meet with a time of 1:42.38 and finishing second in the 200 Backstroke with a time of 1:52.60.
"It was definitely a big moment, giving me the confidence to compete with the big boys. It's great to see the process of going from a freshman to now being an example for the team," Robinson said before adding a phrase popular among some swimming circles. "Last one, fast one."
Robinson anchored the Gold Team during the Pirates' annual Black and Gold Intersquad Meet, taking first in the 200 Freestyle with a time of 1:47.31, second in the 100 Backstroke with a finals time of 57.03, and leading the Gold's 200 Freestyle Relay team from the anchor leg with a team-best 21.54 time.
"Last year, our senior class defined the culture and that's the job I have now, setting the example," Robinson said. "Always being the first one in and last one out. Showing what we're about here and how to do it right.
"The principles make the difference in the long run, setting a good culture. The new guys are the future and I'm only here one more year."
In that sense, the Pirates' swimming and diving teams are more about the process than results. Broaching the topic of team or individual goals might be one of the few things that elicits a serious demeanor.
"We don't discuss specific goals [outside of the team]," Robinson said before vaguely allowing himself to admit their sights are set on 'pretty big things.'
Rehgan would only set goals or expectations in terms of team culture after finishing the intersquad meet with a second-place showing in the 100 Butterfly (1:04.42) and anchoring Black's 200 Freestyle Relay team with a team-best 25.37 time.
"Our goal is to be super close," Rehgan said. "We want the entire team standing and cheering any time even one person is in the pool."
The Pirates officially open their season with one of their two home meets on the season, hosting Austin College, whose men's and women's teams defeated McMurry last weekend.
Inside the Walzel Natatorium, the music will be gone on Saturday but the joy and hard work will persist as the Pirates go through the season to the beat of their own drum—whether it's playing music during practice or Coach Duncan reciting the film Gladiator before a meet.
"In college, there's academic stress, personal stress…when you come here and swim, we just want them to be happy," Duncan said. "It's a long season, we have short term and longer term goals we discuss amongst ourselves. We know what we have to do and we do it day in and day out."
Life can be an upstream swim. Might as well have fun doing it.