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Photo courtesy Lauren Teghtsoonian

Dinos men’s swimming team become Canada West Champions

By Rodrigo Verney, December 15 2022

The University of Calgary Dinos men’s swimming team made history this week after bringing one more Canada West banner home. The broad squad, consisting of young prodigy swimmers and accomplished veterans, cleaned the podiums and beat the University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds, their long-term rivals, to give the Dinos their 21st Canada West Championship. The win was also marked by incredible record-setting performances from the women’s team despite them not winning the championship itself. This was, truly, a performance that will be hard to forget.

This win marks the Dinos’ incredible comeback after being denied their victory in 2019 when they lost to the Thunderbirds at the championship by only five points. A single-digit margin that lived in the heart of every competitor. Fast forward to two and a half years and the Dinos now find themselves victorious over the team who beat them and the turbulent years that the pandemic presented. All while enjoying a much larger margin, racking up 924.5 points, beating the Thunderbirds’ 860. This is their first championship victory since the 2012-13 season and it couldn’t have come in a more spectacular fashion.

“There were four of us left from the meet three years ago where we lost by only a few points, so redemption was definitely the message all weekend and everyone played their role to help us win,” said Dinos swimmer Paul McKenzie.

Such an incredible performance entails much more than a simple celebration of victory. This win ensures their place at the top of the West and sets their eyes for the College Cup and, possibly, even the USPORTS National Championships — giving them a chance to beat their 2012-13 season by climbing higher on the USPORTS podium this time around. The chances are definitely in their favour but they have to maintain this same level of focus and win the College Cup to keep on advancing at the same pace against the tough divisional competition.

The banner wasn’t the only Dinos accomplishment featured in the event, as they appeared on the podium a total of nine times out of 14 on the third day. The Dinos men’s team were able to leave their mark at the 200 meters Individual Medley as Nathan Versluys and Charlie Skalenda secured second and third place respectively. At the 400 meters freestyle, the story was much different. The Dinos duo, Versluys and Paul McKenzie, finished at the top of the podium with impressive times as both made it in less than four minutes. 

That many podium appearances were reflected in the number of medals they brought home as well. Both the women’s and the men’s teams combined for an impressive 35 medals haul. Among the many winners, it is necessary to point out Emily De Jager, the women’s rookie who got bronze at the 400 freestyle where she stopped a Thunderbirds podium sweep. Her performance overall was astonishing, placing fourth the day before.  

It has been a big week for Skalenda as he was selected as Canada West Men’s Rookie of the Year on top of all of his podium appearances. The talented young swimmer also accumulated an impressive total of 1473 FINA points in his two best performances. This kind of praise is well deserved and it means a lot for any athlete, no matter the level of play. The crown of rookie of the year shows that you have more than just achieved what you were supposed to — you exceeded.

“To receive this award really means a lot since it is something I can only achieve once in my swimming career,” said Skalenda when asked about the weight of this achievement. “To do it during a competition where I can be proud of my efforts and performances while being supported by everyone on the team to push me to do my best is a great feeling. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

The women’s team went above and beyond in typical Dinos fashion. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to beat the Thunderbirds for the title. However, that shouldn’t diminish all of their other achievements at the event. The team combined for a total of 810.5 points which gave them second place with a total of 263 points ahead of the University of Victoria Vikes in third place. The team also featured Olympian Rebecca Smith that won gold in all of her individual events. All while setting new championship records for individual and group events. Smith got the honour to be named back-to-back Canada West Women’s MVP and earned the reputation of having the most amount of championship records in CW swimming history.

The Dinos also understand how sports have a much broader objective than just getting medals. It goes beyond the game. That is why the team makes an effort to exceed beyond the pool. Mark McKenzie got recognition for his work in the community. He was awarded this year’s Canada West Student-Athlete Community Service Award. One of the most important awards in the life of an athlete. Knowing that the community reciprocates your passion and care means more than any championship.

Overall, this event has been a great measure of the Dinos’ growth for the past two years. A team that was slowly rising reached its first major breaking point and came out on top. From now on they’ll be able to look back at their photos and rejoice in the excitement they felt at that moment. A true wonder that few get to experience. As of now, the future looks bright for the Dinos. They have to maintain the same level of commitment and hard work, but that will be easy for the best of the West.

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