Swimming full circle on a Mustang’s debut


Jonathan Salmon

Soka University Pool, the venue for The Master's University's first-ever swim meet

Will Caylor

The Soka University Pool is just a community pool to some students. Others see it as training facility for the Lion’s swim and dive team.

Image by Jonathan Salmon

To Gabe Woodward, it’s where he first trained for an important meet in the upcoming summer, a meet that many athletes aim to compete in. Only a select few ever make it there.

“Lane 8,” Woodward noted. “That’s where it all began.”

That meet which he trained for was in preparation for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, where he would take part of the 4×100 Relay with the US Olympics Swim Team, earning bronze in that event.

Fifteen years later, he would come back to that same pool, beside the same lane where he first started training, this time as TMU’s Director of Aquatics for the newly formed Swim & Dive team.

While conversations regarding the inception of the team began in the fall of 2017, its origins goes a bit further back than people may be aware of.

Woodward’s father asked the athletic department about starting up the swim team in the fall of 1996.

“The department agreed and said we needed to look for a coach and find the resources to create the team,” Woodward said.

Two decades later he would get a call from the president of the university, Pastor John MacArthur.

“He called me and said that the swim team was all set to go, and he asked me if I wanted to start it up,” Woodward said.

Woodward, alongside Swim and Dive head coach Bryon Davis, then began recruitment for the team prior to the current season.

Director of Aquatics Gabe Woodward and head coach Bryon Davis discuss their thoughts to the team after the meet

“It’s been a long time,” Davis said. “It’s taken us 2 years to get the ball running and to get it out of the gate running right.”

When the Mustangs first arrived at the venue, they got into their uniforms and went straight into practicing their technique, followed by some words of encouragement from the coach. His last statement before prayer and then the huddle break, was to “have fun.”

“As an athlete we all need to go out and do our thing, but to do it for Christ as well.” said swimmer Journey Werner, a marketing media freshman.

For the next couple of hours, the Mustangs swam in a variety of events, with each event showing not only what the team could do competitively, but also what they could do to support every teammate that participated, cheering on from both ends of the pool.

“It was really fun,” Werner said. “I really liked how we were able to come together as a team for the first time and just lay it all out on the pool.”

While they didn’t win their first swim meet, they did set a benchmark for their upcoming conference meet a few weeks from now, while also setting team records in every event that they competed in.

“I think this is a great start to the program,” coach Davis added. “I’m really encouraged at how the athletes are competing.”

Both of the team’s relay performances have put them in a position to make NAIA nationals, an announcement that both Davis and Woodward made to the team to end the meet on a high note.

As of now, TMU’s Swim and Dive team’s next course of action is to prepare themselves for the conference meet in a few weeks.

“The next two weeks, we’re gonna be going hard and practicing,” swimmer Heidi Larsen said. “Then the week before the meet, we’ll taper and get our bodies and minds ready for the meet.”