Making a Splash – Spotlight on EC Men's Swimming
Written by: Ashley Westbrook
When the Emmanuel Swimming program began, Head Coach Allen Gilchrest set a goal to compete in the NCAA DII National Championship and bring home hardware.
He watched intently as year after year God continued to bless him with bigger, faster, stronger swimmers and waited patiently through the NCAA DII Membership application process which ended in July of 2018 with Emmanuel becoming full-time members of NCAA DII and Conference Carolinas.
In March of 2019, after a record-breaking season, the team's ultimate goal became a reality when several Emmanuel swimmers qualified to compete at NCAA DII Nationals in Indianapolis.
Coach Gilchrest was not a stranger to the national scene as this marked his thirteenth time coaching at the National Championship.
"There's something special about being at Nationals, it elevates the level of competition," Coach Gilchrest said. "When we got there, our guys swam some really fast times, dropping seconds here and there. Our guys broke six school records and had 12 best times while we were there."
Junior, Alex Sobers was prepared to compete at a high level with experience competing in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and three consecutive World Championships for his home country of Barbados, under his belt.
"My experience helped me to remain calm and focused," Alex said. "At this level you have to adjust quickly."
His calm demeanor and adjustments paid off and Alex became Emmanuel's first NCAA DII National Champion winning the 500 freestyle with a time of 4:21.09, earning All-American Honors.
Sobers, Joao Santos, Thiago Rosa, and Senior Captain Rafael Mendes combined for 11 All-American swims.
Before the team left for Nationals, Coach Gilchrest emphasized to his team that the participants were representing Emmanuel at Nationals, not themselves.
"I reminded them that we were representing the whole men's team and that when they win, the whole team wins," Coach Gilchrest said. "I expressed to our guys, when we're in the weight room and at practice day after day, we're all pushing each other. This is our team's accomplishment."
Because of this mindset, the team's bond has strengthened.
"We definitely have grown and bonded throughout the season," Alex said. "The comradery on this team has been special, especially when we really needed it."
The Men's Swimming team finished the season ranked #16 in the Nation.
What does this mean for next year?
"For the team to finish so high in our first year in NCAA DII, it's motivation to keep pushing and reach new heights next year." Alex said.
This success will also impact recruiting for EC Swimming as they become a national contender.
"We've broken school records 312 times over the past six years, which shows that we continue to improve," he said. "I stress to recruits that we're a positive program, we try to be positive in how we conduct business on and off campus and as student-athletes."
In any conversation with recruits or current student-athletes, Coach Gilchrest also stresses the importance of being ambassadors in all that they do.
"We're going to represent Christ and Emmanuel College in a positive way," he said. "I think when we travel other athletes see us and see that we're different and our hope is that we shine for Christ in a positive way."
Coach Gilchrest set a goal when the EC Swimming program began six years ago. This year, the Lions arrived on the national scene and his hope is that they'll continue to make a splash.