Swimming, gymnastics, table tennis teams compete in national championships, bring home team, individual titles despite obstacles
Despite having only a few members, the swim team has had a historic year.
It finished 45 out of 75 at the club nationals in Atlanta, Ga., on April 10-12. The team also finished the year as league champions, with the men’s team coming in first and the women’s team coming in second at the league meet on April 18.
At nationals, the team also set school records in the 800 freestyle relay, the 400 freestyle relay, the 200 freestyle relay and the women’s 400 individual medley.
The team is part of the Southwest Swim League, which competes against club teams from schools like Baylor, UNT and Texas State. Because the team faces competition from such large schools, it’s hard for new swimmers to catch up to the rest of the team.
Business administration senior and club president Austin Mullins said it’s difficult to get new brand new swimmers acclimated to the team’s training regimen. He said team members swim anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 yards four times a week during training.
He said going nationals last year paid dividends for the team this year and helped it gain valuable experience.
Mullins said he hopes the success the team had will help to bring in more swimmers next year.
“Hopefully telling (recruits) about breaking the school records and this is how fast we are, we can get some more fast people over the summer,” he said.
One of the biggest advantages the team has had this year is its volunteer coach, graduate student Alejandro Jacobo. During his career, he swam at Texas A&M and was a member of the Mexican national team, where he had the chance to compete against world-class swimmers like Michael Phelps.
He holds the 500-meter and 200-meter breaststroke records for Mexico and is the first Mexican in history to swim the 100-meter breaststroke in under one minute.
He joined the UTD swim team when he saw an opening for a coaching position. The year before he started, the club was coached by club president Renee Jay who had to run the club, form all of the workouts and compete in her own events.
Jacobo has helped alleviate this burden by bringing in his experience as a swimmer and working with the team at practices.
“He shows up to at least two practices a week and then he’s usually at our swim meets as long as they’re in town or in the DFW area,” Mullins said. “He tries to work with us one-on-one. He gives us sets for basically all of our practices. I’m a breaststroker and that’s what he did was the breaststroke, so his insight to my improvement has been invaluable.”
Jacobo said one of the key differences that makes swimming stand out from other sports is the amount of time swimmers will put in for just one meet.
He said unlike other sports where there are multiple quarters for athletes to bounce back from, swimmers only have one race to prove themselves in.
“You train your butt off for months, and I’m talking about five months or more,” he said. “And your goal is to work as much as you can, put in as much effort and literally almost overtrain your body so that when you start resting and you go for that one opportunity and that one moment, you just go and swim as fast of you can.”
Even though he has brought a lot of experience to the team, Jacobo credited the success of the team to the work ethic of its swimmers.
“Some of my experience through swimming, I’m sure it had an impact on them, but I’m not going to say it’s all me” he said. “It’s definitely the team that came together that we’ve got and the willingness of these swimmers to show up to practice even when they were busy with school.”
At the league championship, the women’s team finished in second despite only having five members on the team and the men finished first overall. Jacobo said it was the highlight of the season.
He said the meet came down to the last few races between UTD and Texas State.
“It was a thriller —kind of like a movie,” he said. “It was very cool.”
Jacobo, who will be graduating at the end of the year to work with his startup company, said it was rewarding to see the success the team had, but it was more rewarding to see members break past their own barriers.
“That’s the reason I was volunteering,” he said. “I was wanting to tell people that the past does not dictate your future. It’s a reference, but that reference, either you use it to help you or to use as a hindrance. So that was something very rewarding.”
… In the Air
Tommy Trompeter started gymnastics when his parents enrolled him and his siblings in classes as babies to help them develop motor skills. As his family members branched off into other sports, the mathematics senior and gymnastics club president decided to stick with what he knew best.
“When I was six, seven, eight, I played some soccer,” he said. “I played baseball until I was twelve. I did some swimming, too. Whenever it came time to make a decision between one or the other, gymnastics was always top of the list.”
That commitment to the sport paid off for Trompteter when he was named as the national champion in the All-Around along with gaining individual championships in the high bars and rings at the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs nationals in Philadelphia on April 9-10.
He said it was amazing when he was named the champion in these events.
“It’s an experience that I’m never gonna forget,” he said. “Just to know that all those hours paid off, that I was finally able to get it done at the highest level, for me at least, it’s an amazing feeling.”
Trompeter, who has been competing since he was six years old, said there are hours of preparation that go into getting ready for a competition. He said one of the hardest events for him — the pommel horse — is one of the most difficult to master.
He said the hand placement for this event has to be absolutely perfect or the competitor will fail.
“Even if you watch the Olympics, that’s the one where you see the most falls, the most things like that,” he said. “But when you do it right, it looks like a piece of cake. But the moment something’s slightly off, it’s over.”
He said the practice that goes into preparing for this and other events are not understood by many outside of the sport. When he was younger he would put in 15 to 20 hours a week practicing.
Still, that was a conservative work schedule for many in the gymnastics circle. He said he had many friends who were either homeschooled or went to academies that allowed them to have even more practice time, sometimes as much as 40 hours a week.
Trompeter also said the mental side of the sport is often misunderstood. He said it can be tough for a gymnast to recover when he or she falls in the middle of a routine and has to get back up to finish.
“It happened at nationals two years ago when I was on the high bar,” he said. “I was doing a scale and missed, my hand went up with a little bit of a wrong angle and splat! Right on the mat.”
This year, the club only sent five members to nationals. The skill and experience level varied for the teammates, with some having competed as long as Trumpeter had and others having gotten into the sport high school.
He said the largest goal for the team going in was to be able to qualify for team finals. Even though the team fell short, coming in seventh overall in its individual session, Trompeter’s performance as an individual was enough to gain UTD recognition.
Computer science senior Suhrud Kulkarni, who also competed at the nationals, said it was amazing to watch Trompeter’s performance.
“We were there for him all the way,” he said. “He’s put in a lot of work this year. He’s practicing every day, almost. He’s been mentally preparing. He was there. He was prepared. He peaked at his best in his last year and, hopefully, I would like to be there next year in my last year.”
Now that his career at UTD is coming to a close, Trompeter said he may consider trying out for the USA Gymnastics senior national team. If he can make it, he may have to opportunity to try out for the Olympic team.
He still plans to be involved in the sport, even if he’s not actively competing. He coaches the men’s competitive team part-time at Eagles Wings Athletics in Allen and he said he’s considering coaching the UTD team in future.
“It’s a little bit of a different environment where it’s definitely geared toward developing the individual,” he said. “Of course you are a team, you compete as a team a lot, but in the end it comes down to you on the event and coaching that is a little bit different that baseball or basketball.”
Greg Schram, the boy’s director and the coach for the men’s team at Eagles Wings, has worked with Trompeter for several years. He said he often had to pry the information about Trompeter’s success out of him because of his humility.
“He would ask me my opinion and I would definitely help him out where I could,” he said. “But it was mostly him coaching himself and I would just help out a little here and there. Being that he’s so humble, he would hardly ever tell me how great he did at a meet and I would have to pull it out of him.”
Trompeter said he hopes to see the club continue to grow and be more successful. He said the ultimate goal is for the team to win a national championship. Another goal the team has is to build up the women’s team.
“I think that just getting a little bit of awareness out by having some success will go a long ways towards helping with that,” he said.
… And on Land
The table tennis club finished seventh overall in the Coed/Men’s category and had two players finish in the top 10 individually at the club national championship in Eau Claire, WI., on April 10-12.
The club went up against teams from Harvard, USC, Duke and Princeton, among others. Computer science junior Kevin Tsai said many of these teams had never even heard of UTD.
Electrical engineering graduate Chandrasekhar Malladi said even though they didn’t have a lot of experience, the goal was to get to the championship.
“Right from the beginning, our target was to get to the nationals,” he said. “We didn’t expect such a good performance at the nationals.”
Accounting graduate Lin Hong finished in the top eight for the women’s bracket and information technology and management graduate Sai Vemuri finished in the top 32 for the men’s bracket.
Hong, who has been playing since she was 9 years old, said it was very difficult to finish that high in the bracket.
“I think top eight is very good,” she said. “Moving from the top 16 to eight is very tough.”
At the tournament, the group faced USC, Harvard and Michigan in its first matches. Even though the team lost 2-3 to third-ranked USC in doubles, they managed to upset Harvard and ninth-ranked Michigan to move on to the next round.
Tsai said the team’s experience in the southern region, which is one of the toughest in the nation, and its large group of international players helped it find success against more experienced competitors.
The team has several players from India and China, where the game is more popular than in the United States. Computer science graduate Anukulkumar Thandra, who is from India, said the game is garnering more attention in his home country.
“A lot of people do play ping pong,” he said. “We didn’t have that much credit before, but now a lot of (Indians) are shining at the international level, so it’s a growing game in India.”
The game is even bigger in China, where it is considered the national sport.
Malladi said the amount of work the international players did overseas helped them adjust to the U.S. game.
“After coming here, the training we underwent over there — we took a lot of training as we were kids — it all comes into play,” he said.
Team members said their success in the tournament helped put the team on the map and let other universities know that UTD is a competitive force in the world of collegiate table tennis.
Malladi said the game is the third fastest racquet sport in the world and has earned the nickname of “lightning-fast chess” because of the speed and mental fortitude that is required of players.
“You have seconds of time,” he said. “In chess, you have time to make a move. You don’t have time to make a move (in table tennis.)”
He said players only have seconds to take breaks between serves and much of the game is played off of reaction and spontaneity because of this.
Players said the level of fitness that is required of players is another aspect that many underestimate. Vemuri said it can be very intense at the higher levels of the sport.
“When you take it professionally, you have to see the intensity, how they move and all that, so that you need to keep your fitness level up,” he said.
Team members said they want the club to grow and get more funding so they can play in more tournaments, which will help them get experience and a better rating moving individual players. Tsai said they also need new tables to play on since some of the ones they have right now are broken.
Even with these obstacles, Malladi said the club achieved the goal it was seeking when it entered the tournament to become more recognized.
“We wanted to show that we exist as a sport,” he said. “Even now, it’s a recreational sport. We are performing at the elite level. We have seen a lot of teams at the nationals that were being funded for the tournament. We were not given our travel expenses, we had to bear our own expenses, but we thought this was the opportunity to show we exist.”