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Swimming team faces in-state rival

After competing at two away meets Friday, the University of South Dakota swimming and diving teams will return home Saturday to compete against South Dakota State University.

Friday, the Coyote women’s team will travel to the University of Nebraska Omaha while the men’s team takes on Morningside College.

Head coach Jason Mahowald said the team has remained consistent with routine, resting since last week’s Falcon Invite in Minneapolis, Minn.

“We’re working on starts and turns; little things that can make the difference in the race,” he said. “We’re not doing a ton of work. We’re just focusing on little things and fine-tuning.”

Junior Jackie Kahnke said the women’s team is focusing on the meet against SDSU over the Nebraska-Omaha meet.

“(The Omaha meet) will be a good meet, but we think we can win, so we’re not worried,” she said. “We’re just concentrated on preparing for SDSU.”

Mahowald said the Saturday meet in the DakotaDome is all about mental preparation, making sure the team stays healthy.

“It’s really easy to get too excited for that meet,” Mahowald said. “We have to remind them to stay relaxed and not get too worked up about any one race.”

The head coach said the two universities go back and forth in wins – the way it should be.

“With in-state rivals, it should always be a tight competition,” Mahowald said.

Kanke said in competing against SDSU, it’s always a mental game.

“Physically, we’re probably about the same, but they have those wins over us, and it’s pretty intimidating to go against them,”she said.

USD typically faces SDSU twice a season, once in the fall and once in the spring. Kahnke said last year’s meets against SDSU were eye-openers for the team.

In fall 2010, both the men’s and women’s teams lost, but in the spring, the men’s team lost by 5 points and the women’s team lost by just one point.

“We’re looking at that and saying we are able to compete against them,” Kahnke said.

Home-field advantage adds an extra twist in a meet like Saturday’s. Kahnke said the DakotaDome pool, a six-lane pool, is measured in meters, while most pools are measured in yards.

She said a typical race, like a 200-yard freestyle, is a 200-meter freestyle in the USD pool, making the actual race a little longer.

“(Teams) are walking in and seeing our pool and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to swim here,’” she said. “It’s not a huge difference, but in a race, it can be 14 more seconds and I think that really freaks teams out.”

Saturday’s meet also marks the end of an era for senior swimmers. The competition against SDSU is this season’s final home meet for not only the season, but for graduating seniors.

Senior Dane Van Arkel said it’s exciting to know there is one more semester left before the end.

“(Seniors have been) swimming for almost four years and we’re just kind of ready to be done, but it’s sad, too, because it’s what you have put your entire college career into,” he said.

Van Arkel said the final home meet isn’t as “threatening” as the final meet of the entire season, but is still daunting.

“It’s the last time you’re going to compete against people in the pool you’ve been training in for the last four years,” he said.