Given Trent’s runaway lead in this year’s Varsity series, University fans would be forgiven for early pessimism. But such worries may be premature, with Swimming – an event synonymous with University victory – the next event on the horizon. The final competitive meeting for many of ‘NU SWIM’s’ (University of Nottingham Swimming Club) members this year, the prospect of doing battle with Trent’s swimmers further raises their anticipation in the build up to Wednesday’s encounter. University team captains Katie Ambridge and particularly Alex “Rusty” Rust are both keen to fuel the fire ahead of the day; a recent message to their team stressed “nothing is more important than beating Trent…you need to get to Varsity.”
The University team go into the Varsity clash on the back of impressive performances at the two BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) events this season; the most recent held in Sheffield earlier this month. NUSWIM finished 5th place overall in November’s Shortcourse and this month’s Longcourse competitions with the girl’s team finishing 3rd and 2nd in their categories. A closer look at this month’s results shows an impressive 133 points scored for University. Trent finished a lowly joint 49th and only claimed a single point. That University finished above three of the teams funded by British Swimming (automatically puttin ‘NU SWIM’ on the back foot in terms of financial muscle and pool time) also elevates team morale.
Coach Alex Thurston – a veteran of six Varsities as coach and several as a competitor – is pleased with his team’s performances this season, crediting their consistency. He is confident his swimmers can do the business against Trent, but remains tight-lipped when pressed for the names of any potential stars of this year’s Varsity: “I’m not going to give any names, because to be honest it’s a team game.” Asked whether he thought complacency could creep into the University camp in light of Varsity history and recent BUCS performances, his answer – “No complacency whatsoever and everyone is training really hard.” – is extremely assuring.
The team ethos he implies is evident when talking to the swimmers; with first-time and seasoned competitors alike insisting they are swimming for the good of their team. The swimmers taking part in their first Varsity could be excused for focusing on their individual performances in front of the partisan crowd expected at the University pool, but all remain committed to the team’s success. One such debutant, hot prospect Natalie Steele – Bronze medallist in BUCS’s 1500m swim at the start of the month – echoes her coach’s sentiments, emphasising “this kind of event is all about the team.”
Another girl with lofty ambitions for Varsity and beyond is Jess Sylvester; winner of three Gold medals at this month’s BUCS, Commonwealth finalist, and tipped to compete in London 2012 after travelling to the 2008 Beijing Games. Captain Rust is less reserved than his coach when it comes to tipping potential race-winners; Matt Smith and NUSWIM President Will Hughes are his picks, “other than myself, obviously”. Admittedly less nervous than ahead of his first Varsity last year, Rust also promises entertainment in the day’s finale, a knock-out competition comprising six swimmers, eliminated round by round until one eventually wins. Of slight concern to Rust is his own admission that he “can’t do breaststroke,” but he is says it “should be good fun to watch, not to swim!”
With another successful season drawing to a close, ‘NU SWIM’ will be looking to ensure University’s Varsity dominance in the pool continues with a solid performance next week. Fans can be reassured by Coach Thurston’s optimistic outlook, insisting he is “really confident that our swimmers are going to do extremely well again.” With coach and team in such buoyant mood, a victory for the swimmers could prove to be the inspiration for a resurgence that sees University reclaim the coveted Varsity crown.