Editor’s note: On April 16, the UC Davis Athletic Department cut four Intercollegiate teams. As part of a four-part series, The California Aggie will examine how these cuts will affect the student athletes, the coaches and the future of each sport. While several factors such as conference affiliation, Title IX regulations and budgetary constraints determine which sports were cut, this series will concentrate on the impact felt by those directly affected. Men’s swimming and diving is part three in this series.
Every August, Pete Motekaitis [cq] explains to his athletes what he expects of them.
This past summer, the men’s swimming coach told his team it could run the table at the Big West Championships.
Motekaitis’ squad did just that this season, finishing with a perfect 8-0 in dual meet play. At the Big West Conference Championships, the Aggies scored the most points ever by a team in the tournament and brought home the conference title.
“I told them if they did things perfectly, they could score 1,000 points,” Motekaitis said. “To their credit, they scored 958.5. I was the one a little off.”
Junior B.J. Scoggan displayed the same sense of confidence going in.
“We beat UCSB in a dual meet,” Scoggan said, “After that, we knew we were going to go undefeated and the Big West Championships was ours for the taking.”
The bitter irony for the men’s swimming and diving team is that despite an undefeated season and a Big West Championship, the program, which has been around since 1939, has been cut by the athletic department.
“At the end of the season, I thought they couldn’t cut us with our record and season [we had],” Scoggan said. “To know that they cut us with our record is a slap in the face.”
“Losing the program feels like death and loss,” Motekaitis said. “It’s devastating and final. We did everything that we were asked of. We were hoping our excellence was a part of our decision. I guess it wasn’t.”
Part of the team’s quest for excellence started even before this year’s seniors began their careers UC Davis.
Every year, Motekaitis opens his home up to high school seniors and potential student athletes. He prepares dinner and explains to 17 and 18-year-olds the tradition and culture of excellence in the pool and outside of it.
“It’s the process that matters most,” Motekaitis said. “The athletes this year bought into the program the most. Sustained excellence is part of this program. I think we’ve helped develop some exceptional men.”
Part of the creation of sustained excellence is the understanding of team spirit and unity.
“We try to make sure that they understand that we have to be a family,” Motekaitis said. “We take trips and go through tough competitions. We don’t have to totally agree with each other on everything, but we need to have respect for each other.”
Scoggan, who transferred from California, explained that this attitude is different at other schools.
“It’s very rare to see a group of swimmers as close as we are,” Scoggan said. “We get along very well. At Cal, there were people speaking different languages in practice. We all get here late August, and the freshmen don’t have any place to stay because the dorms aren’t open yet. They stay with upperclassmen for about a week or two.”
Continued success and the strong bonds of future student athletes won’t be created next year or the year after, for that matter.
“We actually had our best recruiting class we’ve had since I’ve been here these last four years,” Scoggan said. “We had to release them. The class was better than UC Santa Barbara, and we were looking forward to a huge year.”
Motekaitis, too, is disappointed.
“I’m sad for a lot of reasons,” Motekaitis said. “I’m sad because the kids on my block just lost an opportunity to swim in college. But the biggest reason why I’m sad is that there are no incoming freshmen.”
This news has thrown a curveball to a lot of swimmers and may cause the team to fall apart.
“I’m not just losing my team, but my friends,” Scoggan said. “There are not many opportunities to swim in college. Nobody wants to leave, but some peoples’ goals are the NCAA competitions and you can’t go to that unless you’re on a college team.”
Like Scoggan, Motekaitis also expresses worry of what the team will do now that it’s been cut.
“A lot of guys will split off,” Motekaitis said. “Some people are taking it really hard. There are some UC Davis specific majors that don’t have equivalents anywhere else.”
While the loss of team will cause hardships for many of the student athletes, the coach also is at a crossroad in his life.
“I’m not sure of what I’m going to do,” Motekaitis said. “When you’re 50 and have a family, finding work is not easy. We’re having a lot of family discussions, and I really don’t know yet.”
Still, Scoggan seems to understand what his direction is.
“I’m going to focus on getting some schoolwork done and train on the side,” Scoggan said. “I’m working on getting into grad school. I just want to make sure that I don’t gain too much weight. We still can train this year. They are going to have to pull me out of the pool.”
Matt Wang can be reached at email@example.com.