Eight Saluki swimmers made a name for the SIU program when they competed in the USA Swimming AT&T Winter Nationals in Austin, Texas during the weekend.
SIU went head-to-head with some of the nation’s strongest college programs and independent clubs.
The University of Southern California, Indiana University, and the University of Arizona were present at the event, as well as 2012 U.S. Olympians Ryan Lochte and Matt Grevers.
“There were big-time programs there, and we were one of them,” coach Rick Walker said.
Each of the events had preliminary heats, and the swimmers who finished with a top- 24 time participated in the finals of that particular competition.
Freshman Till Pallmann found success Thursday during the first slate of events. He made it to the finals of the men’s 500-yard freestyle, where he placed 12th of 24 swimmers at 4:25.88. He was the only Saluki swimmer to make it to finals.
“Till’s on fire,” Walker said. “We’re all trying to figure out a way to let him burn. He’s on it and we want to make sure that we give him everything he needs to ride it out.”
Pallmann and sophomore Calvin Kolar took part in the 200-yard individual medley less than an hour after the 500-yard freestyle. Kolar took 66th while Pallmann finished ahead of him at 46th in a field of 74 competitors.
Pallmann, who is finishing his first semester at SIU, said he thinks he has improved throughout the season.
“It’s a natural progression,” he said. “I improved in the pool, and I’m having a lot of fun.”
Senior Jared Bradd was Thursday’s last male Saluki swimmer. Bradd finished 49th out of 54 at 21.02 in the 50-yard freestyle.
The only female swimmer to compete during the first day’s events was sophomore Hannah Pinion, who competed in the 200-yard individual medley preliminary. She finished at 2:07.03.
Pinion said the team was worthy of being on a national stage.
“In a way it was kind of intimidating,” she said. “At at the same time, our mindset going in was that we deserved to be on that level. Overall, our team did well, and we all did well individually.”
Pinion started off the day for the Salukis on Friday when she swam in the 400-yard individual medley and finished with a time of 4:31.25. Junior Pamela Benitez rounded up the day for the women as she finished the 200-yard freestyle at 1:51.06, which was good for 43rd place of 58 swimmers.
“I try to take something from every meet I swim,” Benitez said. “I’ve been at some big meets, and now I can add this to the list.”
Pallmann and Kolar represented the men Friday. Pallmann took part in the 200-yard freestyle. His time of 1:38.91 ranked him 30th of 53 swimmers, as he narrowly missed the cut for finals. Kolar was disqualified during the 100-yard breaststroke.
Benitez started Saturday off for the Salukis in the freestyle mile (1,650 yards). She placed 18th of 24 and finished at 16:43.56. Junior Isabela Castro swam in the 200-yard freestyle, and a 2:03.73 finish put her in 32nd place during the preliminaries.
Pallmann and Bradd competed in the men’s 100-yard event freestyle, and Pallmann took 44th of 67 swimmers place while Bradd finished 58th.
Kolar took a stab at the breaststroke for the second consecutive day, this time competing in the 200-yard edition. His time of 2:05.06 put him at 45th place in a field of 57 swimmers.
It was the last fall event for the swimming and diving team members, who will not compete again until Feb. 2 against Evansville at home.
Though his team is young, coach Rick Walker said those who replaced last year’s seniors have fit in well. He said he is confident about how his team will perform in the spring season.
“With the kids that we’ve got here, I feel very, very good,” he said. “I would venture to say we’ve made a turning point.”