Pepperdine women’s swim team hung out to dry

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Madison Krall, who has been swimming her whole life, found out just before spring break that the Pepperdine University swim team was discontinued, leaving her and her teammates struggling to find placement at other colleges with athletic scholarships.

When freshman Madison Krall places her orange swimming cap over her blonde hair, straps on her mirrored swimming goggles, and jumps into the water at Pepperdine University’s Raleigh Runnels Memorial Pool, she looks at home. Krall gracefully glides through the water at speeds that have made her name ubiquitous in the university’s record book. As talented as Krall and her teammates on the Pepperdine women’s swimming and diving team are, however, they will not have many more opportunities to add to their records.

On the Friday before spring break, Pepperdine Director of Athletics John Watson sent an e-mail to the team, informing them that the women’s swimming and diving program would be discontinued due to the economic crisis and the need to reduce the athletic department’s budget.

Watson declined to be interviewed for this story.

Prior to the announcement, Krall was in a great mood because she had just helped lead the team to a third place finish at the Pacific Coast Swimming Conference Championships. She was looking forward to spring break, which she spent in the Republic of Panama as a part of Pepperdine’s Project Serve program, donating her time to help paint schools and visit orphanages. Krall was one of the last students left on campus, as most of her friends who did not have classes on Friday afternoon had already gone home. At 2:30 in the afternoon, Krall was about to go to class when she received a text message telling her to check her e-mail for a letter regarding the swim team’s future.

“I started crying,” Krall said about reading the e-mail. “I was really, really upset. I did not believe it was true. I was shocked.”

The university’s announcement put the swimmers and divers in a tough position. The athletes did not want to leave Pepperdine, but most of them had been swimming their whole lives.

Krall has been preparing to be a collegiate swimmer since she started swimming at five years old, spending countless hours in the pool. In high school, she was the South Central League Swimmer of the Year, and participated on the Colorado All-Star Team. Krall was also successful in the classroom as the president of the Spanish Club and a member of the National Honor Society. At college, in only her first season, Krall recorded the second all-time best swim times in Pepperdine’s 24-year history in the 500 free, 1000 free, and the 1650 free. Her outgoing personality allowed her to make many friends, and, in addition to her time with Project Serve, Krall volunteered with her sorority sisters at St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

“Everything about my first year at Pepperdine was incredible. Pepperdine has so many things that I love about it, but swimming has been such a big part of my life, and I cannot envision not having it,” Krall said.

Many of the girls looked into transferring to other schools so they could continue their swimming and diving careers, with the support and help of longtime Pepperdine head coach Nick Rodionoff, and his wife, Carrie Rodionoff, an administrative assistant for the team. However, the girls found that by the time they were informed Pepperdine’s program was going to be discontinued, other colleges had already filled their roster positions and given out their athletic scholarships. According to the Pepperdine Sports Information Department, Nick Rodionoff declined to comment for this story.

Enough outside assistance was offered to give the team one last season, for the 2009-2010 school year. However, the future of the program looks bleak beyond that time.

“I am delighted this opportunity is being made available and grateful to those who are investing in these young women,” Watson had said in a press release. “I also do not want to build false hopes. There is no university funding available to continue the program beyond the 2009-2010 academic year.”

Despite Watson’s position, the girls are not giving up their program without a fight. Financial, swimming, alumni and academic committees are campaigning to reinstate the swimming and diving program beyond next year. However, the girls understand that 2009-2010 will likely be their last year at Pepperdine.

Krall said, “It is hard to see myself elsewhere because I have gotten so used to going to Pepperdine, but I could not imagine myself not swimming.”