Pepperdine swim and dive team seeks scholarship donations

Five weeks after a mystery donor provided monetary backing to keep the Pepperdine University swimming and diving team afloat next year, the university’Äôs athletic department is searching for donors to provide scholarship money to the financially-strapped program.

In a March 10 e-mail, Nick Rodionoff, coach of the Pepperdine swimming and diving team, said the money pledged to the program in early February for operating costs is available as long as the university has a swim team; and all future donations and pledges to the Waves will go toward athletic scholarships for swim team members.

Rodionoff said the team’Äôs roster could be rebuilt quickly if donors who gave funding commitments to the team during a funding drive¬‚’Äîwhich lasted from December 2009 through February 2010 to save the team from elimination’Äîre-pledged the monies the Waves athletic department refunded to them after an anonymous donor stepped forward.

The team needs scholarship funds to recruit high school swimmers and divers to Pepperdine, in order to replace outgoing team members and ensure the squad’Äôs future

In a March 2 email to his team, Rodionoff, who did not return a reporter’Äôs call or e-mail, said it would require $4.5 million to fund the 4.2 scholarships the team previously had available each year.

’ÄúIn order to fully fund the team, it would appear to require $14,000,000.00 [sic] in an endowment fund at 5% [sic] interest,’Äù he said.

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Sophomore diver Leslie Wade said the scholarships are important.

’ÄúThis year we haven’Äôt been able to recruit at all, so as far as that goes we don’Äôt have any freshmen that we know for sure are coming in,’Äù Wade said. ’ÄúWe have girls that are walking on [to the team] but in terms of numbers we don’Äôt know how many girls we are going to have, because in November we normally sign a handful of girls.’Äù

Tiffany Martz, a junior Wave diver, said having freshmen on scholarship keeps the intensity of training.

’ÄúIf they begin [college swimming] without the pressure of performing up to their scholarship, it could be a downhill road,’Äù she said. ’ÄúIt could also be, though, that we have very dedicated freshmen who want to always perform to their best, come to every practice, cheer on every teammate, just because that is what they love to do.’Äù

The Waves featured seven senior swimmer and divers on their 2009-2010 team, along with 19 other juniors, sophomores and freshmen.

The team swam into shallow waters when the Pepperdine administration was forced to consider cutting the program due to the worsening U.S. economy.

After the winter fundraiser fell short of the estimated $1.6 million in committed funds needed for Pepperdine to operate the team through the 2013-14 season, university athletic director John Watson announced an unnamed benefactor would pick up the tab for the program’Äôs operating costs for future seasons.

Watson said in February that he was returning the funds donated before the mysterious donor decided to flip the bill, and that he is starting the process of seeking financial commitments to fund athletic scholarships for the swim team.

Wade said she hopes the Waves will be able to bring in freshmen for next season.

She said if she could talk to a recruit she would tell them that Pepperdine’Äôs swim program is great.

’ÄúI have personally grown a whole lot at Pepperdine as an athlete and as an individual,’Äù she said. ’ÄúWe have a great coach and a great support system.’Äù

Martz said there is little she could say to turn a recruit away.

’ÄúI would convince them that any affiliation with our swim and dive team is considered such an honor, as we have worked so hard to get here and fight through this,’Äù she said.

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