The Western swimming teams got their competitive season off to a strong start last weekend at the Ontario University Athletics Fairweather Division Championships in Guelph, with both the men's and women's teams finishing second in the overall standings.
The divisional meet, which is composed of the top five swimming schools in Ontario, allowed Western to get a feel for their major competitors for the championships in the winter season.
The Mustangs ended up with 18 podium finishes in relay and individual events, with the women's 400–metre freestyle relay team winning Western's only gold medal of the competition. As well, nine Western swimmers posted times faster than the U Sports Championship qualifying standard, which makes them eligible to compete at the national competition in February.
Matthew Loewen led Western's results, taking home three silver medals, in the 50-, 100- and 200-metre breaststroke.
In addition to tangible success, head coach Paul Midgley was also encouraged by the growth of Western's rookie swimmers.
"They're starting to show the benefit of the work they've done since September," he said. "We think they're going to be able to help us out come February."
The Mustangs had a quick turnaround from the OUA meet to the Badger Invitational on Saturday at Brock University. They came out on top there, winning the team points competition by 316.5 points.
"When we start to put performances on the board I always like to do two meets back to back," said Midgley. "Say last weekend if they did something and they felt they made a mistake, or there's an area they can improve on, they don't need to wait three months to make that change. They can do it right away."
After competing at Brock, the Mustangs will have some time off for the exam season. Midgley says that can be a tricky time for the team and he hopes they will not lose the progress they've made up to this point.
It's important that Western's swimmers come back from the break ready to compete because the winter banner season comes around quickly. The overall OUA championships kick off Feb. 9 in Toronto, followed by the U Sports competition two weeks later in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
The Mustangs are optimistic about this season, hoping to land their first ever top-three team finish at the U Sports championship. Last year, the men finished fifth and the women's team sixth overall, and Midgley feels they can improve on that.
Perennial powerhouse Toronto will be Western's main rival, especially at the OUA championships. U of T have won the past three women's provincial titles, and the past 13 on the men's side.
"I did think earlier in the year that we had a chance to take a run at U of T," said Midgley, "but they've got most of their swimmers back, and I think we're just going to fall a little bit short of dethroning them."
Nonetheless, the future seems bright for Western swimming, and a provincial championship is within their sights in the next few years.