A year ago, the UCLA women's swim team placed eighth in the NCAA championships, its best showing in six years.
Coach Tom Jahn is hoping his team will do even better at the NCAA nationals today through Saturday at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
UCLA has qualified swimmers in 10 of the 14 individual swimming events and all of the five relays. Additionally, diver Karla Goltman qualified on the 3-meter board.
Jahn sees his team matching or surpassing last year's success. "We're pretty happy going in," he said.
The confidence stems from a strong second-place finish to Hawaii in the Pacific Western Conference Championship, the Bruins' best performance since 1978.
Jahn will take 13 swimmers to Arkansas, including four All-Americans: captain Diane Graner, Kathy Clark, Sofia Kraft and Ulrika
Jahn believes his team will peak for the meet as it did last year. "Everything is geared toward the nationals," he said. "Of course, they have to swim fast in the qualifying meets such as their Pac-West championships, but we want them swimming their fastest in the nationals.
Should UCLA do as well as expected, it will further establish itself as a power in women's collegiate swimming.
Until the mid-1970s, UCLA was one of the dominant teams, featuring such swimmers as Olympians Dana Schoenfield and Karen Moe, but by the end of the decade the Bruins had difficulty cracking the Top 10.
"UCLA jumped off to an early start," Jahn said. "They pioneered offering full scholarships for women's swimming." By the late 1970s, however, other schools had caught up.
Came From Berkeley
The Bruins continued to lag until Jahn took over. He had coached swim clubs after graduating from Georgia Tech in 1973. In 1977, he became the assistant men's coach at UC Berkeley while pursuing his doctorate in exercise physiology. He coached there for five years before moving to UCLA.
Jahn named former UCLA swimming star Cyndi Gallagher as his assistant, and a year later he chose the respected Van Austin to coach diving.
Then Jahn began a recruiting drive to rebuild the team.
"You recruit for the strokes that are in the relays," Jahn said, explaining what he looks for in a swimmer. "In most (meets) there are 15 individual events and five relays. But the relays are double weighted so they count for almost half the points in the meet. You want a balanced team, but you need strong people in the relays."
Using this philosophy, Jahn assembled a young team that has improved each of the past four years. Of the 28 swimmers on the team, 24 return next season. Only Graner, Clarke, Tammy Harvego and Maureen New will be lost to graduation. All four divers will return.
"If we do well in the nationals this year, we have a chance to be named in the preseason Top 10 next year," Jahn said.
Such recognition would confirm that UCLA once again has a women's swim team to be reckoned with.