Riggs: Texas Looms Large in Swimming
The opportunity to compete against the University of Texas now on a yearly basis has become a big selling point for Vic Riggs’ Mountaineer swimming and diving programs.
The Longhorns are perennial national title contenders in both men’s and women’s swimming, and Riggs is promoting the fact that WVU swimmers will now have an opportunity to compete against the best NCAA swimmers in a world-class facility each winter during the Big 12 championships.
“The move does provide us with a great facility for our conference meet (held each year at the University of Texas), which will be exciting,” said Riggs. “Being able to head to Austin and have our kids compete at one of the finest facilities in the country is a big plus.”
Aside from switching championship venues (as well as competing against Texas), nothing will really change much with the WVU program – initially. The Mountaineers will continue to schedule dual meets with schools in this part of the country and use those dual meets to get ready for the championship season.
Riggs explains that there are two ways a program can approach its regular season.
“An administration has a say in how valuable your dual meet season is,” he noted. “I’ve worked for universities where a dual meet record is very important, i.e., Georgia in the SEC. I’ve also worked at Southern Cal where it’s very similar to here – the administration understands that the endgame is the (national) championship.
“And the other aspect is how we approach the dual meets as a staff,” he continued. “We want to win as bad as the next guy, but we use our dual meets as an opportunity to race and improve our times. We don’t fill up all of our dates because we don’t want to race every weekend (to avoid wearing down his athletes for the all-important championship season).”
That’s why Riggs believes racing at the University of Texas in the Big 12 championships will be such a big boost to his two programs.
“We are going to stress this season the change in the championship environment,” he said. “The Big East was a great meet for us, there were 11 schools that participated, the teams knew each other really well, and it was a very competitive environment. Now, we know who is going to win going into the meet – we know that there is going to be a little bit of a domination – but on the backside of that, going into the Big 12 championship meet we know that there are not going to be such things as a travel squad (restrictions) and qualifying times, so we are going to have the opportunity to have more swims there.”
Texas swimmers completely dominate the Big 12 record book, especially on the men’s side, and the Longhorns are clearly head and shoulders above the other schools in the conference. But Riggs envisions his athletes rising to the challenge when they hop into the pool and race against them.
“We will use that meet to get us to the NCAAs – nothing against Pitt or Louisville – but that is a much better environment than trying to get an NCAA cut in a facility that is not as good,” he admitted.
Presently, the Big 12 does not have a round-robin dual meet schedule in swimming, although Riggs is looking to add some Big 12 schools on the schedule in the future. He has already secured one home-and-home meet with Big 12 newcomer TCU.
“We wanted to try and initiate some sort of rivalry right off the bat and they are very similar to us as far as the level of program, so having that dual meet with a Big 12 school will be fun,” Riggs said. “They’re coming here in January and we will go down there in January of ‘14.”
Riggs believes West Virginia’s new conference affiliation will also open up additional recruiting opportunities for his program as well.
“We have kids from Texas on our team and we recruit from all over the country,” he said. “We have two returning sophomores, and we have a young man coming in from Austin this year; Texas is a good swimming state so we’ll continue to recruit down there and see what we can pull out.”
In the meantime, Riggs said his swimmers will have to continue to train hard and prepare for a much more competitive conference championship race next winter.
“We’ve joked about it a little bit and we understand that there is a big (Texas steer) in our backyard right now that is going to be hard to handle, but we’re at a level now where our kids are looking forward to the challenge,” he said. “We just recently raced against some Longhorns and some TCU kids down at the UltraSwim (in Charlotte).
“Fortunately for us, our sport is driven by times so it really doesn’t matter who or where you’re from, if your time is fast enough you’re going to make the meet or you are going to be able to do some things,” he concluded.