New Aquatic Center Seen As a Springboard for WVU Swimming
Mountaineer swimming coach Vic Riggs believes the new Aquatic Center has the ability to propel his program to a whole new level.
West Virginia’s swimming and diving season ended short of completion this past spring, as the coronavirus shut down the sports world just prior to the NCAA swimming championships, which were slated for March 18-21 in Athens, Georgia.
While the year ended in a disappointing fashion, it certainly featured optimism throughout much of the campaign for the Mountaineers.
The ribbon was cut opening the Aquatic Center on Nov. 1, 2019, and Riggs’ men’s and women’s teams immediately put their new home to use, hosting the West Virginia State Games that weekend and then the 18-team WVU Invitational later in November. A quartet of duel meets also populated the Aquatic Center schedule before the Big 12 Championships came to Morgantown, as did the NCAA Last Chance Meet and the NCAA Zone A Diving Championships, capping off West Virginia’s first year in the new facility.
Four Mountaineers used the meets at the Aquatic Center to qualify for the NCAA Championships. David Dixon (200-meter butterfly) and Hunter Armstrong (100-meter backstroke) qualified for swimming events, and divers Jacob Cardinal Trembley and Nick Cover qualified on the platform. They were the first WVU divers to qualify for the NCAAs since 1983, but unfortunately for that pair, and the two swimmers, their trips to the nationals were wiped out by COVID-19.
Still, Riggs thinks the new Aquatic Center will greatly improve his program in many ways.
“We’re very, very blessed to have a facility like this,” said West Virginia’s swimming coach. “What people didn’t realize is that when we were at the Natatorium with a combined men’s and women’s teams, we could never practice as a team. We had certain training groups coming in at different times and then others coming in at another time. Typically for us, we had a 2 o’clock group and a 3:30 group.
“When we moved into the new facility at Mylan Park, the first big benefit we saw was being able to arrive as a team, train as a team and leave as a team. That really helped build our cohesiveness and culture as we moved forward.”
The Aquatic Center is part of a $48 million swimming/outdoor track complex in the northeast corner of the 400-acre Mylan Park, which is a few miles north of Morgantown. The Aquatic Center itself is a 90,000 square foot facility with a 50-meter competition pool and seating for 1,200 spectators. There is also a diving area, an indoor community water park and an outdoor splash pad. While the facility is home to the WVU swim program, the community swim areas are open to the public … or it normally is during non-quarantine times.
“With the new facility this year, we had an opportunity to learn and get better at hosting big events,” explained Riggs. “That’s why we held our mid-season invite knowing we were hosting the Big 12’s in February. That helped us work out some of the kinks.
“We’ve just learned that the Big 12s will now rotate between us and Texas,” he added. “Texas will host it next year in 2021, and then we’ll have it back here in 2022, and that will be the rotation from there. We’ll be hosting the Big 12s in even years.
“As we move forward, Mike (Grapner, WVU’s diving coach) is hosting the regional zone championships again for diving next year, and eventually down the line we’d also like to get the opportunity to host the NCAAs.”
The 44-year-old Natatorium may have had some charms, but it never featured a 50-meter Olympic pool. Budgetary constraints when it built in the early ‘70s forced some cutbacks, which included a 25-meter pool.
Now the Mountaineers have first-class facility in which to train and also to serve as a showcase to attract talented prospects.
“The Aquatic Center has been impactful for our recruiting the past couple of years,” noted Riggs, who has been WVU’s swimming coach since 2007. “As soon as they put a hole in the ground, we started taking recruits out there to the facility and showing them the progress. It’s been a big, huge benefit for our recruiting.”
Riggs hopes the new facility will propel his teams to bigger and better things in the years to come.