Men’s swimmers, paced by Davidson, focus on finishing well at CCS nationals
Brimming with youthful excitement and veteran leadership, Liberty University’s men’s swimming team is primed to peak at this Friday’s through Sunday’s College Club Swimming (CCS) National Championships at Ohio State University, where it will compete against more than 1,000 swimmers from 128 programs and strive to improve on last spring’s program-best fifth-place finish.
Other than their six seniors and one junior, the Flames will rely heavily on their underclassmen to buoy the 25-man roster they will carry to Columbus, Ohio.
“This is the youngest team for sure since my first year of recruiting,” Liberty fifth-year Head Coach Heath Grishaw said. “We are going to see a lot of our freshmen score and be put in really big moments this weekend.”
“Heath has done a fantastic job of recruiting,” senior captain Matt Davidson added. “Our freshman class alone this year has made our quality so much deeper. A bunch of our freshmen already have the potential to score at this meet, which is going to help us out a ton.”
For Davidson, it will most likely be the final competitive meet of his swimming career.
“Wednesday will be the last time I’m going to have a practice here at ‘The Nat’ with the team,” he said of the Liberty Natatorium, while wrapping up practice there on Monday night. “I’m trying to take in every single moment, good or bad. It’s definitely bittersweet. I’m trying not to focus on the bitter right now, trying to just focus on doing well, swimming fast, and then I’ll let the emotions come after I’m done.”
Among the highlights of his career so far was last season’s national championships, where he won three individual national titles (in the 50-yard backstroke, 100 freestyle, and 100 back) and finished third (0.1 second out of first) in the 50 free as well as swimming legs of the Flames’ five top-10 relay teams.
“I’d love to repeat that,” Davidson said. “My goal is four for four (in individual events) this year, but at this point, I’m just happy to be going back to nationals. I’m just excited to compete with my team, race some fast guys from other teams, and whatever happens happens. I’m just going to try to take in every moment and enjoy my last meet as much as I can.”
He will graduate with a B.S. in Exercise Science over Commencement Weekend, May 11-13, before getting married on May 26 and remaining at Liberty to start pursuit of his M.S. in Athletic Training.
Davidson arrived at Liberty in Fall 2019 as one of its most decorated recruits.
“Out of high school, I had several friends commit to (NCAA) Division I schools,” he said. “That was sort of the expectation. Without Heath (Grishaw), I wouldn’t have even thought about coming to Liberty, but he put the thought into my mind and through a lot of prayer, the Lord got me to come here and that is one of the best decisions, aside from proposing to my fiancée, that I have ever made in my life.”
“I am so glad that I am here,” he added. “Heath has definitely made me a better swimmer, he has made me a better person, a better man of God. He has taught me a lot about swimming, a lot about life in general, so I am so grateful that I have been able to be in this program for four years.”
Davidson has aspirations of leaving a lasting legacy at Liberty but is not putting too much pressure on himself or his teammates diving into the national meet.
He stays grounded in his faith by meditating on Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways, acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
“That kind of helps remind me that I need to remember what’s important,” said Davidson, who had the Scripture reference tattooed on his chest after last year’s nationals. “Yes, swimming is important, and I think that is something that has helped me grow in my relationship with the Lord. But ultimately, I need to have confidence in the Lord going into this meet, not confidence in myself, and know that whether I win all four events or don’t win any of them … to Him it doesn’t matter how fast I go, it matters that I have the right attitude and I’m giving the glory to Him in everything, no matter if it’s a fast time or not.”
Davidson will enter a total of 16 swims over the three-day period and plans to pace himself in the preliminaries.
“It’s a lot, for sure,” Davidson said. “With the training especially that we’ve had this season, I’m very confident that Heath (Grishaw) has prepared me well to do all of these swims back to back.”
He swam a similar load at the Oct. 15-16 Eastern Regionals at the University of Maryland, with even less time between events, and managed to win three individual events and swim on two winning relays in leading the Flames to their third consecutive regional crown.
“I was able to do it there, so I’m confident I can do it at nationals,” he said.
Davidson particularly wants to finish strongly alongside the other five seniors who were a part of Grishaw’s first full recruiting class — co-captain Carter Helsby, Jay Blasko, Christian Dilena, Wade Lawrence, and Zach Mallory.
“The six seniors that we have right now that have made it all of the way through, we’ve definitely grown closer to each other,” Davidson said. “I hope that we’ve helped set a legacy, set the team dynamic so that these freshmen and sophomores coming up can kind of continue the traditions and continue what we’ve already established.”
He wants to take the focus off of himself by encouraging his teammates from the pool deck.
“We do need to focus on our swims and make sure we are doing all the things we need to do to go as fast as we can, but then … we need to make sure that we’re right there next to our brothers, cheering them on, so that they can do the best that they can do (and) make memories that will last a lifetime,” Davidson said. “Obviously, our goal is always to win, but … at the end of the day, as long as all of us are giving our swims to God, it doesn’t matter if we win or lose. We need to be confident in our training, we need to be confident in God, and go in there with the right mindset … (and) show the love of Christ in everything that we do.”
Grishaw said Davidson and the Flames can set the tone for nationals by winning Friday’s opening 800 freestyle relay.
“We have a really good shot of breaking the event record by three or four seconds,” Grishaw said, noting that the Flames broke the existing record last year, but lost by 0.3 seconds to Georgia.
Davidson will be followed by freshman Dillon Delaney, sophomore Trent Kolter, and freshman Whittman Brown, who will anchor that event.
Davidson (back), Delaney (breast), Kolter (butterfly), and freshman Maximus Phillipps (free) will be in pursuit of a podium finish in the 400 medley relay later that night.
“We want healthy pressure, to see the guys shine on the big stage, and we don’t want them to shy away from this championship moment,” Grishaw said. “I confidently say, I would not ride with any other team.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer