Rice swimming is riding a wave of momentum. Fresh off a victory in a four-team meet in San Diego, the Owls are cruising as they enter into their final month of preparation for the Conference USA championships.

The season, however, did not start in the way the team had hoped it would. Rice began the year with a third-place finish in the Missouri State Shootout and losses in three of its first five dual meets. Junior Alicia Caldwell said the losses were a product of a number of factors.

“At the start, we were all getting back into our comfort zone,” Caldwell said. “We were adapting to the new training styles and we took a couple of losses, which was hard.”

Now in his 15th season at Rice, head coach Seth Huston said he is impressed with the way this year’s team handled its early season struggles.

“We took some tough losses, but I think every meet this year our team has stepped up and laid it all out there,” Huston said. “That’s something I can’t say every year.”

Since October, the Owls have placed no worse than second in their four invitational meets. Rice finished first in a field of three teams in the Rice Invitational, then second out of 11 teams in the Phil Hansel Invitational. Their only hiccup came in a dual meet loss to No. 5 Texas A&M University, but they followed up that performance by winning all 18 events in the Incarnate Word Invitational. Then, to begin 2017, Rice took home first place in the San Diego Invitational.

Following the win in San Diego, Caldwell was named the Conference USA Swimmer of the Week. She took first place in the 100-yard backstroke and 100-yard freestyle to match sophomores Hanna Huston and Marie-Claire Schillinger for the team lead with two individual event wins. In addition, she swam the lead leg in both of Rice’s relay wins, the 200-yard freestyle and 400-yard medley relays. Caldwell said she is motivated by her strong performance.

“It’s really exciting,” Caldwell said. “It’s definitely a big confidence boost.”

With just over a month left until the Conference USA championships, the team is entering the most important stretch of its season. At the end of January, the Owls will compete in the Quad Meet, a four-team dual meet at Louisiana State University. Then, they will spend the next three weeks training for the title meet. Caldwell said the team is trying hard to train in the pool, but it is also making sure to build team chemistry outside of training.

“We’re doing a lot outside of the pool to build camaraderie,” Caldwell said. “Swimming can be seen as an individual sport but overall it is a team effort. Once we are pushing each other together it brings up the spirits and makes everyone want [to win] more.”

Huston said the team’s camaraderie is one of its best qualities.

“To me, the sense of community that they’ve built is their most impressive trait,” Huston said. “With collegiate swimming, I don’t feel like we treat it as an individual sport. We really try to get everybody to take one for the team. We’ve got great junior and senior leaders and freshmen and sophomores who have been really dedicated and committed to the program.”

Caldwell and the rest of her teammates will look to build on their recent performances in their upcoming quad meet. The Owls will compete at LSU on Friday, Jan. 27 and Saturday, Jan. 28 against the University of Houston, Tulane University and the host, LSU.