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Kentucky Kernel

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“We have a lot of people to prove wrong.’ Kentucky swim and dive remains confident despite third consecutive loss

Kentucky swimmers compete in the Blue and White Meet on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, at the Lancaster Aquatic Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

With Kentucky swim and dive suffering a third consecutive loss, fans may not have expected confidence, energy and joy to be radiating from the program following the result.

Yet, despite the expectations, that’s exactly what happened.

“There are wins that feel like a loss and losses that feel like a win,” head coach Bret Lundgaard said following the meet. “For us, this loss felt like a huge win.”

The two-day competition, spanning from Jan. 12-13, ended with the men’s team falling to No. 19 Alabama 175-144, while the women tallied a close loss to the No. 18 Tide 163-158, battling until the very last second.

Kentucky claimed podium spots in 14 events and swept the top three spots in the Women’s 200-yard individual medley (IM).

The Cats also held the top two spots in the Women’s 400-yard IM, 200-yard freestyle, 100 and 200-yard backstroke and the men’s 1,650-yard freestyle.

“You just naturally become more confident because you know where you’re going and how to get there,” Lundgaard said.

Lance Johnson continued making his mark by clocking his 53.86 – the fifth fastest time in school history – in the 100-yard breaststroke. 

Kentucky and Alabama swimmers compete in a meet on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024, at the Lancaster Aquatic Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jenna Lifshen | Staff (Jenna Lifshen)

The performance marked the third time the freshman out of Pewaukee, Wisconsin, achieved a top-10 program time.

“It means that all the work that we and the coaches have been putting in is paying off,” Johnson said. “Little things that lose the race, we don’t do that anymore.”

The start of the season was an expected struggle for Kentucky: an entirely new coaching staff and 12 new athletes called for some growing pains. Finding a rhythm in its work is what led to a sudden spark of hope while competing.

“It was a grind at the beginning of the year, a lot of not knowing what we were doing, but definitely, since then, I believe there’s been a significant change,” Johnson said. “People are getting personal bests, which usually doesn’t happen this late in the season.”

The 2023-24 season has looked different in the eyes of diver Abby Devereaux.

“I’m feeling confident, really good,” Devereaux said.

The diver struck gold in both the one and three meter springboards, her scores improving from previous meets.

The Junior out of Colleyville, Texas, dealt with the coaching change mid-way through her college career. Returning for her third year, her positive and hopeful mentality never waivered despite the circumstances.

“Knowing we can trust the new coaching staff and that they believe in us is a really great feeling,” she said. “The team was ready to work, and we all helped each other.”

With the championship season on the horizon, some may wonder what Kentucky’s mindset is with the struggles for a result. To the athletes, it’s simple.

“We need to show people what Kentucky is all about,” Johnson said. “Just knowing I can perform, and the team can perform, it gives me confidence we can do that.”

To both Johnson and Devereaux, it’s not the individual successes they pride themselves on, but their ability to help their team win in every way possible. While the two of them hope to take top spots in their events during championship season, both share that one similar goal.

“I think the biggest goal is the team finding success,” Devereaux said. 

Kentucky swimmers compete in a meet against Alabama on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024, at the Lancaster Aquatic Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jenna Lifshen | Staff (Jenna Lifshen)

Johnson also shared no hesitation in his answer.

“My goal is to help the team succeed, not just myself,” he said

In a sport built on individual results, selflessness, humility, belief in each other and determination as a team is how the Kentucky Wildcats plan to achieve their success.

“I just hope we keep this momentum that we have and take it into SECs,” Johnson said. “I believe that we’re going to do great things. Props to the coaches for doing that for us.”

With two meets left before the Cats make the trip to Auburn for conference championships, the team finds motivation in the idea that there is nothing to lose and nearly everything to prove.

The Wildcats will return to competition on Saturday, Jan. 27, on the road against in-state rival Louisville before returning home for senior day against Cincinnati on Feb. 2.

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