The resonant sound of cheering fans and the shrill ring of cowbells echoed throughout the Edward J. Shea Natatorium for three days during the Missouri Valley Conference women’s swimming and diving championships.
Host SIU and the other four teams that make up the MVC — Missouri State University, Illinois State University, University of Evansville, and the University of Northern Iowa — competed Thursday through Saturday for the championships. The Salukis finished third for the third consecutive year as the Missouri State Bears took home the gold for their fifth consecutive season.
SIU swimming and diving coach Rick Walker, who is in his 25th year with the program, said he viewed his team’s finish as an equitable end to a hard-fought season.
“What I won’t tolerate from either myself or anyone else when they discuss this team is a lack of effort,” Walker said. “They wanted it really bad, they worked hard and they came up short, but were still closer than we were last year.”
Freshman Pamela Benitez said despite it being her first MVC championship as a Saluki, she went into Thursday’s play well rested, ready and focused for the three days ahead.
Benitez and four others left Thursday’s preliminary round with a ticket to the finals that evening. Freshman Hannah Pinion also set an MVC record in the 200 individual medley Thursday.
All three days had morning preliminaries and afternoon finals, and SIU’s first-day finish served as a testament to its overall outcome Thursday.
Nine Salukis succeeded in preliminary action, which placed them in finals late Friday. Pinion came back Friday to swim the fastest 400 individual medley time by more than three seconds in the preliminaries. She won the breaststroke by more than five seconds, with her time being the second-fastest in MVC championship history.
Sophomore Isabela Castro started off the final day of preliminaries Saturday with a bang as she broke the MVC Championship record in the 200-meter butterfly by one second.
Castro was one of SIU’s 12 swimmers and divers who placed in Friday’s finals.
Castro defended her title in the 200 butterfly late Saturday to set a championship record in the event. Castro’s time made her the second-fastest individual in the history of the school in the event.
Missouri State would eventually run away with a final score of 977 to the Salukis’ score of 705. SIU trailed Illinois State by 20 points, and the University of Evansville and Northern Iowa came in fourth and fifth place.
During Saturday evening’s finals, Walker was recognized in front of a packed audience for his 25 years with the Saluki swim program by the athletes and coaching staff.
Kyle Walker, Walker’s son and a freshman thrower on SIU’s track team, recognized the season as a special one for his father, as both a son and a Saluki.
“My dad coaches his teams like they’re family,” Walker said. “It’s always nice to see hardworking people get recognized, especially when they’re family.”