Already a three-time NCAA Championship participant, senior swimmer Julius Espiritu will be making his fourth trip to the national meet next week as part of a 27-athlete (12 men, 15 women) UC San Diego contingent in Birmingham, AL. The Campbell, CA native owns all-time UCSD top 10 times in both the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke and was part of the school record 800 freestyle relay at last year's NCAA meet. He's also one of the team captains and head coach Matt Macedo values what Espiritu brings both in and out of the pool. "Julius was an incredible addition to this program and will be greatly missed when he completes his senior season next week," said Macedo. "He's grown as an athlete but even more as a leader since arriving in the fall of 2009. He's naturally quiet, but he's always worked hard and since becoming a captain after his sophomore year, his vocal leadership has really complimented that hard work." On the eve of his final collegiate competition, Espiritu took time to talk about the NCAA experience, his team and his time at UC San Diego.
Q-What does it mean to you, making a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships?
ESPIRITU-It means a lot to me, and makes me appreciate all of the hard work that I've put in every year. It was my goal entering my first season to make Nationals all four years and to do it is a great way to end my swimming career.
Q-You've been to Canton, OH, San Antonio, TX and then Mansfield, TX for the national meet. Are you looking forward to Birmingham, AL?
ESPIRITU-I am definitely looking forward to being in Birmingham, mostly because it will be a totally new experience for me! Neither I nor anyone I have spoken to has been to Birmingham before, so I am going into this with an open mind. I expect that the food will be phenomenal, as it always is at nationals.
Q-What is your fondest memory to date of the NCAA Championships?
ESPIRITU-The last night of nationals, the team goes out to dinner with the parents and alumni to celebrate the end of the season. All of the graduating seniors give a farewell speech, and last year's speeches were particularly emotional for me because I had spent the last three years with that class and it was sad to see them done with swimming. That is probably my fondest memory out of the pool. My fondest memory in the pool would probably be during last year's 800 freestyle relay. It was a rough race for me but we finished with a school record.
Q-The swimming & diving team typically sends a sizeable contingent to the NCAAs-do you have any interesting traditions associated with the national championships?
ESPIRITU-The team always gets together the Saturday morning before we leave to have breakfast as a group, usually at the Canyon Vista dining hall. This serves as a "farewell" for those who are leaving for nationals and as the final team gathering of the season for those who didn't qualify.
We also have a tradition for the final session of the meet, which is wearing Hawaiian shirts. Most teams at the meet are not from warm areas, and wearing Hawaiian shirts allows us to be goofy and show off the fact that we are tan and from a warm area of the country.
Q-What events are you planning to swim this year? How would you describe your prospects in each?
ESPIRITU-This year, I'm swimming the 200 and 400 medley relays, the 100 and 200 freestyles, and the 100 backstroke. We always want to win relays, but a top three finish would be solid. All of the seed times are really close, so the relays are up for grabs. For my individual events, I'm seeded out of the top 16, but hopefully I can drop some time and score some points.
Q-The men's team finished second last year in Mansfield and the women were third. What kind of results do you expect from this year's teams?
ESPIRITU-Our goal at the beginning of the season was to win a national championship, and that hasn't changed. As long as we swim to our potential and swim as hard as we can, we will do great and the season will be a success.
Q-Who would be an individual on each team that your are excited to see perform in Birmingham?
ESPIRITU-On the men's side I'm most excited to see Adam Rice, a fellow senior, swim this year. Every year he trains like a champ and then drops an insane amount of time at nationals, which I know he will do this year. On the women's side I'm really excited to see another fellow senior, Amber Tan, swim at nationals. She's been having her best year training-wise and it showed at our dual meets and at conference. Honestly I'm just really excited to see my fellow seniors dominate at our last collegiate meet.
Q-Besides the caliber of swimming, what else is different about the national meet compared to an average competition?
ESPIRITU-There are many things that make nationals different from the average meet, but the thing that is most salient to me is the presence of our alumni. We have people who have been coming to nationals for decades as alumni, along with those who have recently graduated, and their presence brings a whole new atmosphere of support that helps us swim fast!
Q-You're one of UCSD's team captains. As a senior, how do you approach that role and what do you hope to provide for your teammates?
ESPIRITU-I just try to use my past experiences to lead the team. I have learned so much from past captains and upperclassmen, and their actions have shaped the kind of leader that I have become. So as a senior I try to lead by example and hopefully provide a benchmark for the next generation of upperclassmen.
Q-What is the most rewarding and most difficult aspect of being team captain?
ESPIRITU-I think that the most rewarding aspect of being one of the team captains is knowing that my teammates trust me and look up to me enough to help lead them throughout the season. There's really nothing too difficult about the job though. I enjoy the team too much to take anything too seriously or find anything difficult.
Q-You've listed the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Lakers as your two favorite sports teams. Those two don't usually go together. How does that work for you?
ESPIRITU-I've received this question many times in the past, and many people are quick to label me as a bandwagon (most recently in reference to the Lakers since the Raiders have been terrible). But the truth is, I've always been drawn to these teams ever since I started watching sports. Neither of my parents really favored sports teams, so I was free to choose my own favorites without any influence or bias.
Q-You've been quoted as saying you could eat pizza "your entire life." What's on your "go-to" pie and where in San Diego can one find the best pizzas?
ESPIRITU-My go-to pizza is definitely meat lover's. When I was a kid I hated vegetables, so naturally I went for meat lover's, and it's been my favorite ever since. The best pizza that I've had by campus is Regents Pizzeria, but if you don't mind the longer drive then I think Woodstock's Pizza in PB takes the cake. I could definitely eat Woodstock's pizza for my entire life.
Q-As a psychology major at UCSD's Sixth College you've got your eye on eventually being a marriage and family counselor. What drew you to that field and what's been the most interesting part of your studies?
ESPIRITU-I know too many people who have been affected by divorce and similar issues, and I feel like I can really use my strengths in this field. The most interesting part of my studies has definitely been the abnormal side of psychology, which deals with clinical disorders and prevention strategies for those disorders.
Q-What is the psychological profile of the average swimmer?
ESPIRITU-I would say that the average swimmer has high levels of motivation, with some anxiety and confidence mixed in. What separates average swimmers from top-tier swimmers is the ability to cope with the anxiety and replace that with monumental amounts of confidence.
Q-Who has the most interesting personality on the swimming & diving team?
ESPIRITU-I'm going to have to pick one from the men's team and one from the women's team. There are so many to choose from, but from the men's team I would have to pick freshman Michael Leung. He does the best Bane (from the Dark Knight Rises) and Steve Irwin voice impressions, and is just a silly guy overall. On the women's side, I think senior Amber Tan has the most interesting personality. She's always the one to lighten the mood during practice or meets by randomly dancing or singing like no one's watching her.
Q-Looking back, what has been the most gratifying aspect of your four years at UC San Diego?
ESPIRITU-Without a doubt the most gratifying aspect of my time at UCSD has been the friendships I have made, especially with the people in my class. Our team is so close, which is a product of the combined men's and women's programs, something that not many teams have the luxury of doing. I have enjoyed every second of the ride and I wouldn't change anything, even if I could.
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