UNLV's Roberts swims alone at NCAAs

UNLV swimmer Cody Roberts spent months trying to earn a trip to Seattle. He never expected to be so lonely once he got there.

The junior sprinter from West Richland, Wash., will be in his home state this week to swim in the NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships. He'll be the only Rebel in the meet, however, as an early-season gamble cost several of his teammates the chance to compete.

UNLV coach Jim Reitz, who is accustomed to sending multiple swimmers to the event each spring, said the decision to allow his top athletes to peak for the elite Texas Invitational in December backfired.

"We have no regrets," said Reitz, whose team finished fifth at the event in Austin, Texas. "We all agreed to do it, and we agreed there would be no regrets. The sun is going to come up tomorrow."

Roberts said the strategy was intended to provide the Rebels with some needed rest before the national meet, noting that last year's training program left everyone exhausted at the end of the regular season.

"Last year after the NCAAs, we all decided we wanted to change the way we were (training), even if we didn't qualify," he said. "We were set on that, and we weren't going to back down on it."

But only Roberts, who was one of eight Rebels to make the NCAAs last year, qualified this time.

Roberts enters the national meet seeded third in the 100-yard butterfly and will also participate in the 50 freestyle, an event in which he had an NCAA provisional B-qualifying time.

Several other UNLV swimmers logged provisional B-qualifying times but were informed after the regular season that their times had been bumped.

Roberts said the mood will be different without his teammates today as he swims the 50 free. But he is convinced that he will rise to the occasion.

"I'm pumped," Roberts said. "This is what I've been waiting for. I'm fully tapered for this meet."

Roberts, a two-time individual honorable mention All-American, said there will be advantages to his solitude. Instead of focusing on the relay events, where UNLV traditionally has been strong, he will be able to concentrate on his individual performances.

"Last year was all relay-oriented," said Roberts, who will swim in the national meet for the third consecutive year. "We all scratched some of our individual events for relay events. This year I can focus on the 100 fly. That's what I've always wanted to do."

No Rebel has won an individual national championship, but the freedom has instilled Roberts with notions of becoming the first.

"My goal is to win the 100 fly," said Roberts, who finished 14th in the event last year. "I'm in good position. I can focus on that now, and I think I'm going to surprise some people."

Reitz said his standout swimmer has a strong chance of achieving his goal.

"Cody is a warrior," the coach said. "He's a tough guy who doesn't need to act tough."

Roberts acknowledged that the competition will be tough. California's Tom Shields, who won the event in 2010 and finished second last year, will be his primary competition.

"Shields is going to be the favorite, but I think I have the element of surprise," said Roberts, who as a Washington native has competed at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center on many occasions. "It's going to take a perfect swim, but I've had perfect swims in this pool before."

Though Roberts has set the bar high for himself, he insisted he has not forgotten that he also will be battling on behalf of his team.

"My main goal is to score as many points as I can for UNLV," he said.

Jeff Wollard is a freelance reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at jwolly@aol.com.