By Raul Dominguez, Jr.
University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) senior Thiago Parravicini has competed internationally for the Brazilian national swimming team. So, when he says the Cardinals can have success on a larger stage, he speaks from experience.
It’s not just a hunch.
The Rio de Janeiro native has put the theory into practice with UIW’s fledgling NCAA Division I program.
The Cardinals men became the university’s first team to win an NCAA Division I conference title when they won the 2014 Coastal Collegiate Swimming Association Swimming and Diving Championships on Feb. 22.
While there are obvious differences between football, baseball, basketball and volleyball, Parravicini says the swim team’s conference title should serve as an inspiration of what is possible.
“The conference title that we won is not just a title for the swim team, it’s a title for the entire school,” Parravicini said. “Even if you’re not swimming, you’re going to feel proud. The campus is happy. Who doesn’t want to be a champion?”
Becoming a champion takes a lot of hard work and a lot of help, both of which the swimming and diving team have gotten plenty of.
“We worked harder than everybody else,” UIW head swimming coach Phillip Davis said. “We set goals and worked hard to reach them. And we got great support from the academic advisors.”
The Cardinals’ swimming and diving team was successful in Division II, regularly competing and succeeding against Division I programs. Still, the leap into the NCAA’s premier division wasn’t an easy one.
The competition is deeper and greater in Division I, but Incarnate Word wasn’t intimidated. In fact, even the Cardinals freshman class proved unshakeable.
“Since the first day of practice (the freshmen) were like, ‘Ok, we are here to win,’ ” Parravicini said. “Who are we going to swim against? Texas A&M? Ok, we want to beat them. Are we going to swim against UT-Austin? Ok, we want to beat them.”
“I think that’s the right mentality. We know we are not on the same level as them, because they are traditional programs at huge schools. They have a lot of tradition in swimming, multiple NCAA titles, but every program started with a first step. That’s the step we were taking. It’s good to inspire, recruit better swimmers and make people believe it’s possible,” Parravicini added.
The recruitment and the tone are set by Davis, and the Cardinals are a chlorine clear reflection of him. His faith, competitiveness and belief in family flow over the team like a warm body of water.
“None of this is possible without the man upstairs pulling some triggers,” Davis said.
Davis has built a family with his team, albeit a team from around the world.
In addition to keeping swimmers and divers from talent-rich Texas in the state, Davis has brought athletes from Ukraine, Morroco, Brazil and Mexico to San Antonio.
It’s not an easy transition.
Parravicini said he could not speak any English when he arrived at the school’s campus to compete in the breaststroke and individual medley.
He was a junior and senior Brazilian and South American champion, so becoming a valuable member of the team came naturally. Becoming part of the family proved easy, too.
“I think one of the best things for me was coming here to the United States and joining the team,” Parravicini said. “All the years I was here, I was in an environment with 50 to 60 friends. They were more than friends, it was a like a big family. They are always there to help you. All the time they want you to have success. They treat us well because they know we are so really far from home. We don’t have family here. Sometimes we have problems with language (and) problems with the culture. So they try to make us feel comfortable here.”
Davis, diving coach Tommy Law and assistant coaches Scott Trompeter, Chris O’Linger and Anders Storvik have proven to be dynamic recruiters. UIW is losing 12 highly decorated seniors this year between the men’s and women’s teams, but the Cardinals’ staff has signed 30 athletes, including some from Ukraine, Hungary and Brazil.
While the team’s coaching staff is looking for great swimmers and divers, they are also looking for quality individuals. It’s a tough journey, but one Davis said is often a guided one.
“God sends us the people that we are supposed to have and it’s up to us to use 100 percent of their genetic potential,” Davis said.
While Davis is extremely proud of the men winning the university’s first Division I conference title, he is even prouder of the teams’ academic success.
The women’s team has a 3.4 GPA and the men’s is 3.3.
Like a proud papa, he is quick to mention Cody Armstrong was accepted to UIW’s Rosenberg School of Optometry and Megan Murata was accepted to veterinarian school at Texas A&M. Parravicini graduated with a bachelor’s in business administration and is going to be a graduate assistant with the team.
If anyone expects the Cardinals to have a letdown after winning their first title, they obviously have not spent any time around Davis.