Tar Heel swimmers help each other remain afloat

Its rout of Duke secured, the North Carolina women’s swim team huddled by the locker room, clasping arms.

With the circle swaying, the team belted out a slightly off-key rendition of “Hark The Sound.” The men’s team looked on from the pool deck, punctuating the song with occasional claps and shouts.

So much for swimming being an individual sport.

“In my view, I always call this a team sport,” coach Rich DeSelm said after his team’s resounding win Saturday. “We have team goals, we have individual goals — the individual goals may not necessarily be shared among teammates, but generally, they do.”

Swimmers primarily compete for themselves — insulated by a solitary lane, their only priority is beating the clock and outreaching their nearest opponents.

But senior Brett Nagle, co-captain of the men’s swimming team, said he doesn’t consider personal accolades when plunging into the pool.

“It’s never about, ‘Oh, I hope I do really good for myself,’” Nagle said. “It’s, ‘I want to do really good for the team.’”

Swimming in the distance freestyle Saturday, his forte, Nagle grabbed 18 points for the Tar Heels with clinical wins in the 500-yard and 1000-yard freestyles. Those precious points give swimmers something more to think about in the water than simply individual glory.

“If everybody’s getting better, then we’re positioning ourselves to do better team-wise,” DeSelm said. “It is a big team, and there is a lot at play, but they know how to take care of that, and they do a good job.”

Keeping confidence and morale high among individual swimmers is essential to the team’s success, said senior Jackie Rudolph.

“When we see someone (struggle), we support them,” Rudolph said. “We don’t make them feel bad about their race.

That togetherness can create an infectious spirit in an otherwise isolating sport — and DeSelm sees that contagious attitude in this year’s team.

“The energy you bring to your own swimming and the commitment to supporting your teammates,” he said, “all make a huge difference when it comes to the final team outcome and also the energy that we have on the pool deck.”

UNC’s poolside demeanor Saturday was buoyant throughout the meet, and the group ended it by joining as one to form what Randolph described as “one cohesive group.”

“This is a special place,” Nagle said.

“There aren’t many like it in the country.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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