Drury University is a powerhouse of Division-II athletic teams and a force to be reckoned with. As a university, Drury has captured many conference titles and moved on to dominate in the National tournaments across the board. However, there is one athletic team that has been able to stand out in their quest for the championship trophies year after year. The Drury University swim team, led by coach Brian Reynolds has been a swimming powerhouse for many years. Their trophy cabinet is stocked full of titles that many other universities can only dream of collecting. As the team prepares to head out to the GLVC National Championship March 8- March 11, which will be in Birmingham, Alabama, they have their goals set to beating records and top times. Unlike last year, 2017 is a festival year, so not only is the meet moving from its original location of Indiana, but swimming will be one of the many other athletics to compete for the national trophy that weekend. Sports such as indoor track and field and wrestling nationals will be happening during the same time in the same complex, so it promises to be an adrenaline filled weekend of excitement and competition.
In previous years, Drury has been considered the top dog of Division-II swimming. Coach Reynolds was on a roll with ten consecutive national title wins from the men’s side and five out of six consecutive wins from the women’s side. However, in the past two years, Drury did not see itself as high as they would have liked at the end of the Nationals competition in the 2015 and 2016 season. Some said Drury had been de-crowned, others knew that they would be back with full force. Holding the number one spot for so many years is not an easy task, and with some changes to the coaching staff and team roster, the team has had to find its footing again.
This past season brought a new set of positivity and challenges to the Drury men’s and women’s swimming team. On a positive note, the team got to travel to Alaska for a winter training trip as well as Hawaii, for their annual (and grueling) two-week training trip. Although it was a challenging winter “break” the team got to train together, support one another, and bond with their swimming family. They were just bouncing back from the upsetting news of a past hazing incident so it was a much-needed couple of months aimed at refocusing and getting back to their top shape, physically and mentally. Unfortunately, life got in the way when one of the standout swimmers on the team, Wen (Ariel) Xu, tragically died during one of her usual swimming workouts. In a way, the team was broken, one of their family members and dear friends was no longer with them, and the team was not complete. On the other hand, this tragic event started a fire inside the hearts of these athletes that cannot and will not be put out.
The motivation for the team has greatly shifted since then. Every morning practice, every meter, every win is dedicated to the memory and the fighting spirit that Wen had. They swim for something that no one outside of their family can comprehend, and this will undoubtedly be what will push them to great heights at the upcoming Nationals competition. As graduate assistant coach Sean Feher noted, “after the tumultuous season that everyone has had considering recent events, I am just happy that everyone is supporting each other and working together as a team to finish out the year”. Competing in this year’s national’s competition will be 12 men (the most out of any team) and eight women. Since the recent change in rules which prohibits individual qualifications during a relay swim, this does not include a number of other men and women that will be attending to compete for gold in the varying relay races of the weekend.
Sean is not one for making any individual predictions, he is just excited to see the swimmers do their best in the water and show of all the work they have put into this past season. He has no doubt that everyone will hit their best times or outperform them. As for the team results as a whole, he states, “both teams are aiming for finishing ahead of where they were last year at fourth for the women and sixth for the men. I feel like this is well within their abilities. They are ready for this meet to finally come around and I am excited to see what they can do”. As a coach and past swimmer for the Drury Panthers, he knows how much hard work is put in every day to see the amazing results. So he knows that all that work will show itself at nationals. Megan Ouhl, a Junior and co-captain on the swim team says “many people do not fully understand the amount of hard work it takes to be invited to this meet. We have a talented group making the trip this year and I am looking forward to see how we perform as a team”.
After all the hours of training and the challenges that this year brought, Drury is being cheered for not only by the Drury community but that of Springfield is well. The Panthers have captured the hearts of many spectators for many years and they are ready to take back their dominance one race at a time. Wish our Panthers luck as they get ready to leave it all in the pool starting next weekend!