It’s been the same story for three straight years for Rice swimming. The Owls have come up just short at the Conference USA Championships each season since 2015, finishing second to Florida International University every year. This year, according to senior Jaecey Parham, they are hoping for revenge.
“The seniors particularly are out for blood,” Parham said. “The last time Rice swimming won conference, it was 2014, the season before we got to Rice, so we are definitely hoping for a conference title.”
Rice is currently ranked No. 48 in the country heading into the championship meet while FIU is No. 50, according to CollegeSwimming.com. The next best team in C-USA is the University of North Texas, ranked No. 98. Earlier this year, the Owls defeated FIU in a dual meet by winning eight out of the 11 swimming events. The Panthers won the only diving event of the day because Rice has no diving team. Parham said the victory in October gives the Owls hope heading into the championship meet.
“After we beat FIU in a dual meet back in the fall, I think that was a big confidence boost,” Parham said. “[It was] for the upperclassmen, because we have never beat them before, but also for the underclassmen, who had only heard tales of the supposedly infallible FIU.”
Senior Kaitlyn Swinney said the team is looking forward to the chance to compete for a title.
“We're all very excited,” Swinney said. “Normally we get pretty nervous in the weeks leading up to conference, but we've all felt very relaxed and confident going into the meet this year. Our team is very excited for a week of fun and fast swimming.”
In its latest meet, a quad meet against Louisiana State University, Tulane University and the University of Houston, the Owls beat Tulane but lost to UH and LSU. On the season, Rice is 10-5 in dual meets. Senior Alicia Caldwell said she has been impressed by the team’s year thus far.
“The whole team has had trained and raced at a very high standard this year,” Caldwell said. “Everyone is really excited to see what we can achieve this week.”
When Rice last won the C-USA Championship in 2014, it defeated FIU by a margin of 260 points; the gap between second-place FIU and sixth-place Tulane was 277 points. This year, if the Owls win, it will likely be much closer. Head coach Seth Huston said the Owls will have to be well prepared in order to take home the conference championship.
“C-USA Championships is a total team effort,” Huston said. “I am not kidding when I say we will need to count on everyone in order to have a shot at winning.”
Parham said the team will be ready to go when the meet begins on Wednesday.
“I do think the team is where we need to be heading into the meet,” Parham said. “Throughout the season I think we have been constantly rehearsing for this week, so that when we get there, we already know what to do. We can relax and let our bodies just do what we've trained them to do.”
The meet will begin on Wednesday, Feb. 21 and last until Saturday, Feb. 24 in Atlanta. Swinney said regardless of the meet’s outcome, she will be proud of this year’s Rice team.
“If all 24 of us gave our best efforts and we still come in second, I would still be so proud to be an Owl,” Swinney said. “At the end of the day and when I look back at my career, I think I'll remember how we all gave it our best and had fun doing it rather than the outcome of the meet.
“That being said, a victory would be huge for us, and it would mean so much to this program.”