When Kyle Virva swam for UNLV from 2007 to 2011, the former walk-on who qualified for the NCAA Men’s Swimming Championships told Rebels coach Jim Reitz to take a look at his little brother, Dillon.
“He wasn’t that fast at the time, but he had that look in the water,” Reitz said. “He just moved.”
Reitz eventually recruited Dillon Virva, a Nevada City, Calif., native. Today, the sophomore is tied for fifth in the country in the 50-yard freestyle (19.11 seconds) and will lead a group of seven Rebels into the NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas.
The top 16 finishers in each event earn All-America honors.
“We’ve made our name nationwide by being able to find kids like Dillon Virva,” Reitz said. “He’s in the top 10 in the country in his event, and we were one of the only schools, if not the only school, to offer him scholarship money.”
A two-time conference champion in the 50 freestyle, Virva was poised to earn All-America honors last year before UNLV’s 200-yard medley relay team was disqualified because of his false start.
“He’s way better this year,” Reitz said. “He’s improved a ton, in the weight room and on his technique. He worked really hard over the summer, which is so critical. Most of our kids were not the top kids in the country (in high school). The kids we find become top kids through offseason training.”
Virva will compete in three individual events. He also will swim a leg on all four of the Rebels’ sprint relays, which are each ranked in the nation’s top 20 and expected to contend for All-America honors.
“I think (our All-America chances) are great for a number of our kids,” Reitz said. “Trying to convince yourself, walking among the top swimmers in the world, that you belong there, that’s half the battle.”
UNLV also will be represented by All-American David Szele, Tom Paco-Pedroni, Henrique Machado, Guilherme Passos, Samuel Lameynardie and Giacomo Gremizzi.
The three-day meet is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. PDT daily. The finals, which will be streamed live Friday and Saturday on ESPN3.com, are slated for 5 p.m.
The Rebels cruised to the Western Athletic Conference title in February. It was their third different conference crown (WAC, Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, Mountain West) in four years and ninth league title in 10 years.
“If you take the very top end of the lineup, those are the kids going to the national championships,” said Reitz, who was named WAC Coach of the Year.
“But you win the conference meet with scoring from the bottom of the lineup. Everybody has a spot on the team, and everybody knows their contribution makes a difference.
UNLV is perennially the top-ranked non-Bowl Championship Series football school for swimming, meaning the program achieves more with less money. It tied for 29th in the nation last year.
The Rebels’ best NCAA finish was 19th in 2011, and Reitz said this year’s squad has the potential to top that mark.
“The highest we figure we can possibly place is 11th. If we get 11th or 12th, that will be miraculously good,” the 34th-year coach said. “The top 15 will be great, and the top 20, that’ll be good.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.