By Kirk Jessome
With another historic season on the line, the 2019-20 men’s swim team was looking to earn their 22nd consecutive AUS championship title.
The Tigers roster was filled with a strong mix of veteran leadership and young talent. Fifth-year team captain Tyler Immel-Herron and sophomore Christian Payne led the way for the black and gold.
In the first two tune-up meets of the season, the Tigers had some strong individual results, but couldn’t find the team win, finishing behind Acadia in the point totals. It was at the Tigers own Kemp-Fry invitational meet where things really start to pick up during the season.
The first night of the meet saw Christian Payne post a U SPORTS qualifying time in the prelims of the 50m backstroke before he followed that up with a win in the final and an even better time.
Payne posted additional national qualifying times in another event, but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers finished third in team standings behind McGill and Acadia.
At the conference championships, the Tigers earned two gold medals on day one with Payne posting another U SPORTS qualifying time in his 50m breaststroke win. Immel-Herron won the second gold, swimming to victory in an extremely tight 200m freestyle final.
On day two Payne and Immel-Herron found themselves together on the podium in the 100m backstroke, with both setting national qualifying times. Senior Jacob Branchflower also earned gold in the 200m butterfly, while Quinn West claimed the team’s final gold medal of the day, winning the 1500m freestyle.
The Tigers battled hard over the three days, but once again fell short to the Axemen with a second-place finish for the first time in over 20 years. Head coach Lance Cansdale reflected on the meet and the impact that his seniors had in their final races.
“As we have student-athletes pass through our team, each senior usually finds a way to lead,” he says. “The best thing is, as they leave, they have imprinted the history and culture of Dalhousie swimming on the younger athletes and offered a continuity of success and winning.”
As the Tigers moved on to the U SPORTS championships, one performance stood out above the rest.
Christian Payne swam a personal best time in the B Final of the 50m backstroke to win the race for a ninth-place overall finish. His time would have been good enough to win him a bronze medal if he were in the A Final.
With Payne’s performance leading the way to a 16th place finish, Coach Cansdale talked about the emotions of that race and how the team will build for next season.
“Christian’s race was fantastic. Realizing that he could have won the bronze at nationals lit a bit of a fire in him to fuel a great year in 2021. We will have a lot of new faces, which will bring a new energy to the pool and focus our resolve to get back in the fight for the banner.”