The University of Nottingham (UoN) Swimming Club will win the Varsity the swimming; in other news, water is wet.

In Nottingham Varsity, there’s one event that’s always been different to the rest. It completely disobeys the norm. One where you don’t get the gritty and unpredictable nature of a closely fought contest that over the years, we have come to expect between UoN and Trent.

What you do get is a spectacle that’s just as thrilling and impressive, but in its own different way.

What you will probably see, when you head down to the pool by the David Ross Sports Village on 29th March, is a total masterclass in how to tackle the often tricky nature of Varsity competition.

I caught up with the pair of captains who have the task of defending UoN’s impeccable record in the pool. James Bull of the men’s team and Becky Dutfield of the women’s.

Since its reintroduction in 2009, UoN swimmers have never lost a Varsity contest. Do you feel the pressure to uphold your unbeaten record?

James: “I do feel that there’s a slight pressure. There are things on the day that you can’t predict. With the season we’ve had in the pool so far, however, this pressure is redundant.”

Becky: “Of course! But we plan to keep that record going for at least another year”

With such a longstanding dominance against Trent, is it a case of finding confidence without being complacent?

Becky: “We are quietly confident – but anything can happen so we mustn’t allow ourselves to get too complacent. We just treat it like any other competition – because that’s all it is!”

James: “Whilst we can be confident in our ability to beat Trent, we can always strive to become a stronger and faster team. Training attendance has been strong and consistent throughout the year from most of the swimmers. We’ve reaped the rewards for this in earlier competitions, so it wouldn’t be unexpected for us to be dominant in the pool again.”

Indeed, UoN swimmers are in good form in the lead up to the series. BUCS Nationals in February saw a number of Personal Bests. With Courtney Price improving on her time in the 50m Backstroke and Alex Kirtley and Will Rose attaining PB’s in 50m breaststroke and backstroke; the Green Gold are poised to blow Trent out of the water once more.

I guess it’s more a question then, of ‘how much can we win by?’ Can you beat last year’s tally of 148 points to Trent’s 78?

“I would love to say yes”, said Becky, “but I also know that Trent have some good swimmers this year so I’m really not sure.”

James was a little more assured: “Our victory last year was one of the highest wins we’ve ever seen against Trent. With our stronger and more diverse team, I definitely feel confident in saying that this year could also be another big victory for Uni of”.

UoN only lost one event last year – the women’s 50m breaststroke. All of Trent’s other points were won because swimmers receive points even if they don’t come first in their race. With such a minor blip in such an impressive collective performance – it’s really not clear whether this year it will be a Grand Slam or prove too difficult to repeat.

James, who reached the semi-finals of the Nationals and competed at the Commonwealth trials in 200m Butterfly, feels that his experience as team captain has brought him closer to the swimmers:

“Through working with the swimmers I have been able to identify their key strengths and utilised them within the team to make it as strong as possible”.

Becky, who specialises in middle distance to long distance freestyle, has picked her names to look out for on the first Super Wednesday of the series:

“We had a good influx of freshers this year, particularly for the boys. The team is shaping up well for Varsity which is great. Specific names to look out for include James Newton, and Courtney Price, both on backstroke”.

Courtney Price will compete at the British Championships (this year’s World Championship trials) a few weeks after Varsity.

James is excited to see the talents of James Newton, Will Rose, and Alex Kirtley translate their outstanding performances from BUCS to Varsity, but stresses that the team as a whole “have trained and competed beyond expectations”. He would also like to mention Alec Haynes, one of the newcomers that UoN will be testing the water with this year.

Neither feel that the loss of key personnel through graduations will create problems. The depth to the team and the students who are returning from years abroad mean that the team is looking as strong as ever, and should continue to make waves.

‘These swimmers have worked as hard as any Varsity team this year – and if anything, provide the model to which other teams should aspire to replicate.’

You’d expect a team with such talent and past success to be confident, and it’s no doubt the case with Becky and James. Maybe Trent not having their own pool is a fair excuse, but you get the feeling that UoN would still be treading water even if their opponents were better equipped to deal with the steely, experienced outfit that the two captains have put together this year.

Don’t think for a second, however, that this will be a non-event. These swimmers have worked as hard as any Varsity team this year; if anything, provide the model to which other teams should aspire to replicate. As Becky put it: “anything can happen,” and UoN will be anxious to ensure that they don’t slip up.

Tom Monks

Image courtesy of Impact Images

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