While anticipating the opening of the state-of-the-art, Olympic-sized Liberty Natatorium in December, Liberty University’s Men’s Swimming & Diving team has dived headfirst into its inaugural season.

The Flames, one of 41 teams in Liberty’s Club Sports program, made waves at their debut meet on Sept. 30 at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., finishing in first place and leaving club teams from the College of William & Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University, ODU, Georgetown University, and Christopher Newport University in their wake.

“We all expected to do well coming in, but the domination aspect was a little bit of a surprise,” said Liberty freshman Ethan Raub, who competes in the butterfly and individual medleys. “We had a blast with some fast racing to get us acclimated to collegiate swimming.”

Head Coach Parker Spencer, who also coaches Liberty’s men’s and women’s cycling and triathlon teams, built a solid starting block for the first-year program by attracting more than 30 swimming recruits, a few who had received NCAA Division I scholarship offers, and a handful of upperclassmen.

“The guys have a lot of great examples on a daily basis of what it looks like to succeed,” Spencer said. “That’s why, on a weekly basis, I’m getting contacted by kids, not just in the United States but from all over the world, who want to come here … because they know that they’re going to have success.”

Freshman Matt Sonnen from Falls Church, Va., swam in the sprint freestyle and free relays for the Flames at ODU.

“Parker is a great coach and we trust him,” Sonnen said. “We have a great freshman class, really unified, and we will be able to build all the way up to our senior years.”

The Flames expect to be tested at the Oct. 29 Patriot Masters Swim Classic hosted by George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Competing in College Club Swimming (CCS), the sport’s national governing body, they plan to peak for the CCS National Championships in Atlanta in April.

At their opening meet in the Liberty Natatorium on Dec. 9-10, the Flames will race in the 18-to-20-year-old men’s division of the Virginia Commonwealth Games Masters Swimming competition. In preparation, they are scheduled to start practicing in the natatorium next month alongside the Lady Flames, Liberty’s NCAA Division I swimming & diving team, which will officially open the facility against Campbell and ODU at the Dec. 1-2 Central Virginia Duals.

“We’re going to have the same practice times, so it will be perfect,” Spencer said. “It’s going to help all around and be a very good dynamic for both teams.”

He is thrilled to partner with Lady Flames Head Coach Jake Shellenberger, Assistant Coach Jessica Barnes, who has helped coach triathletes for the past few seasons, and first-year Women’s Diving Coach Tori Lamp Wood, a three-time SEC diving champion at the University of Tennessee who also works with  the men’s divers.

“Jessica, Tori, and I are excited to welcome the men’s swimming & diving team to Liberty, and we look forward to their success,” Shellenberger said. “We have a tremendous relationship with our Club Sports department, and we believe the addition of the men’s team will raise the profile of both programs.”

The 75,000-square-foot natatorium, which will have 1,400 seats in a wraparound configuration, is connected to the Liberty Indoor Track Complex that opened in January. It will feature a nine-lane, 50-meter pool with a movable bulkhead and a separate 17-foot-deep diving well with two springboards and a five-platform tower. The pool can be divided into 20 lanes for short-course training, with eight additional lanes in the diving well.

“We are very much looking forward to it,” Raub said. “Between more pool space, a faster pool, a better guttering system, better air quality — all around, it’s going to be a lot better.”

“It will be amazing,” Sonnen added. “We’re going to have top-of-the-line, best-of-the-best equipment to train with, including underwater cameras and speakers to perfect our technique. It’s a huge upgrade.”

Shellenberger said the addition of men’s swimming & diving this year, as well as men’s water polo in Fall 2018, were major incentives for the construction of the Liberty Natatorium. A grand opening celebration is planned for Jan. 26.

“Liberty is unique from other universities in that our Club Sports compete at the highest level and provide an NCAA DI experience,” he said, adding that the new facility is a testament to President Jerry Falwell’s commitment to providing world-class facilities for Liberty’s student-athletes.

Source : http://www.liberty.edu/news/index.cfm?PID=18495&mid=248226

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