Thirteen swimmers in total will make up Canada’s NCAA team, which will travel to Birmingham, Alabama for the meet, which begins on Wednesday.
The team will look to build on the highly successful showing at last year’s event, which saw eight all-American finishes en route to a tenth-place finish overall.
Amongst those finishing with all-American honours in 2016 was Adrian VanderHelm, with the Clan swimmer aiming even higher this time around.
“I’d like to win a national title in at least one of my races,” said VanderHelm.
“I’m looking at racing the 200 individual medley [IM] and 400 IM, and I think I’ve got a fairly good shot at those. I haven’t raced a 400 IM at nationals before, but coach and I decided it’d be a good shot for me this year.”
VanderHelm also has his eye on repeating his all-American finish from 12 months ago.
“I feel like there’s a little bit of pressure on me, almost. I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t all-American again. It’s not really swimming for me, though, it’s swimming for the whole team.”
Lauren Swistak was the sole female all-American from 2016, and the senior from Port Moody is also looking to repeat her success.
“My goal is to improve on last year, as well as to keep having fun,” said Swistak. “Everyone’s doing really well, and the team’s looking strong.”
Head coach Liam Donnelly hailed his team’s progression ahead of the trip to Birmingham, highlighting the advances made during SFU’s short time in the NCAA to date.
“We’ve only been in the NCAA since 2013, and the first year we went to nationals we had no men on the team,” said Donnelly.
“The NCAA gets better every year. The standards move up and get faster each year, so for us to even maintain our performance levels we have to show improvement. For us to exceed our performance levels year after year shows we’re moving at a faster pace.”
With four returning all-American athletes amongst the 13 making the journey south, hopes are high that SFU can at least match last year’s performance. Donnelly, however, is keeping calm.
“For me [a successful championship], it’s when we have consistent optimal performances. You can’t go into a major meet and expect everything to roll your way and be perfect. If it does turn out to be the fairy tale event for us, then that’s fantastic. We know there’s going to be a range of performances, though, because there’ll be other factors and things you can’t control.
“We want to manage those factors and be in the optimal range of performance. For example, if we move up or hold our ranking, that’s a sign of success. If we have lifetime best times, that’s a sign of success. If we’re breaking school records, fantastic.”
The competition gets underway at the University of Alabama with the opening ceremony on Tuesday, and the meet beginning the following day.