Katie Parker (copy)

The Dukes found themselves in last place on the first day after being disqualified from the relay, but fought back to finish the competition as CAA champions.


It’s safe to say the JMU Swimming and Diving team made a big splash this past weekend as they prevailed above the rest of the CAA.  

“It was a feeling like no other jumping into that pool with the rest of my team,” Hope Byrum, CAA Most Outstanding Diver of the Meet said. “That was something from the very beginning of the season that we all jumped into the pool together and said the next time we jump into a pool together, we want it to be the end of this year and have a conference title.”

Waiting for a meet to start always produces an anxious mindset, which can sometimes alter an athlete’s ability to perform. Unfortunately, head coach Dane Pedersen and the rest of the Dukes fell into this cycle Feb. 13 while waiting for the competition to start.

“You get there Tuesday and you don’t swim until Wednesday afternoon, and so there’s another waiting game,” Pedersen said. “That waiting game was met with a little apprehension and disappointment.”

To start the competition off, JMU was disqualified in the relay, putting the Dukes in last place. With emotions running high and disparity filling the air, senior swimmer Abby Ortman knew the comeback wasn’t going to be easy, but it was attainable.

“It shows a lot how you come back after, not a failed session by any means, but a disappointing session,” Ortman said. “It says more about who you are as a team, and we wanted to make sure no one wrote us off.”

The mentality throughout the whole weekend was never questioned, which made it impossible for the nine other CAA teams to undervalue JMU. Pedersen talked with his team after the first night and built the energy back up, preparing the Dukes for the upcoming days.

Byrum took what Pedersen had to say into strong consideration before tackling her next events. Being such an individualized sport, Pedersen’s words meant a lot to the team.

“He was saying that we just need to be the team that we have been the whole year,” Byrum said. “If you go out there and be that, there’s goals that you never thought that you could reach, or things that you never thought were possible that can happen over the next couple of days.”

The Dukes realized that to be successful, they had to come together more than ever before, and be there for one another in this individualized sport. They did just that.

“They have something I bet no one else in the pool has, and that’s their commodity and love for each other and the support for each other,” diving head coach John Wolsh said. “I guaranteed them there is more love for them in that building than any other athlete participating, and to remember that and feel that and just keep feeding on each other.”

Coming back from a last-place finish after the first day, JMU led the final three days of the competition and ultimately won the title, putting the reigning champions, William & Mary, in second place.


“My biggest enjoyment out of all of this was not the personal gratification of winning,” Pedersen said. “Just being able to watch them enjoy it and knowing how bad they wanted it.”

Although, the swimming season has ended, the divers are preparing for the NCAA meet. Wolsh knows the preparation is going to be difficult after the emotions experienced last weekend.

“They have to climb back into that positive emotional, physiological state which you can train yourself to do, but you still need some recovery days before you can get back into that mode,” Wolsh said. “It’s like climbing the highest set of stairs — like trying to do stadium steps when you’re exhausted.”

Contact Paige Ellenberger at ellenbps@dukes.jmu.edu. For more swimming and diving coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.