By Nicole Ramsey

Imagine swimming through rainstorms and cold weather.

The UC Santa Cruz swim team has done just that at almost every one of its home events, but despite the gray clouds overhead, the team has seen its fair share of sunshine with its recent success.

Last Saturday, the Slugs hosted their Last Chance Meet, which is the last competition for swimmers to qualify for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) nationals in Ohio. Sophomores Jamie Johnson and Ben Ferguson and seniors Troy Marcikic and Kenton Drake qualified from the men’s team. Qualifiers from the women’s team included seniors Erin Hunter and Mariko Ikehata and junior Megan Crowley.

The swim team has produced more All-Americans than any other sport at UCSC and has sent swimmers to nationals every year since its inception.

“Our team is an honest Division III team,” Crowley said. “We have no scholarships and we overcome a lot of adversity. We work really hard and we totally deserve how well we are doing right now.”

The team practices three out of the five school days, also incorporating a two-hour workout on Saturdays and early morning weight-training sessions during the week.

“You have to put a lot of hours into it, and you have to maintain a consistent way of practicing,” Hunter said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s really exciting that a lot of people have been qualifying in the past few years, so it’s worth it.”

Hunter holds the No. 1 spot in the country for the women’s 200-meter breaststroke in Division III. She has been to nationals before, but this year she looks forward to seeing many of her fellow teammates at the competition and potentially seeing them succeed.

“We have worked really hard to get to that point, so when we finally qualify it’s really exciting,” Hunter said. “It had always been my goal to make it to the NCAA and now this is my third year making it.”

Backstroke swimmer Ikehata said she probably felt the most pressure at Saturday’s Last Chance Meet, as it was her only chance to beat her past time in order to make the trip to nationals.

“I was stressed,” Ikehata said. “It’s a lot of pressure to beat these times and when I did, it was great because I swam faster, and now I am 10th in the national rankings for the back sprint.”

The members of the men’s relay team, Johnson, Ferguson, Marcikic, and Drake, all qualified for nationals at the Pacific Coast Swimming Conference in Long Beach last week in the relay competition as well as in their own individual events. Qualifying at Long Beach guaranteed swimmers a spot at nationals, but for those who did not qualify, the Last Chance Meet provided one final opportunity.

“We have a pretty solid relay team this year,” Marcikic said. “We just want to accomplish finishing at a faster speed than last year and go into it having fun.”

The national competition brings teams from all divisions across the country, which can prove to be discouraging at times for a Division III team like UCSC, but can also be rewarding.

“It’s an accomplishment, considering how many teams there are in Division III,” Marcikic said. “We still had to compete against other Division I teams and a lot of them have money to recruit good athletes, so it’s cool to compete against them.”

The qualified athletes will head to Oxford, Ohio in March to take place in the NCAA nationals. The women will compete March 13 through 15 and the men will compete March 20 through 22. Both meets will take place at the University of Miami-Ohio.