When swimmer Abby Rubado committed to Augustana University, she took a chance on a program that didn’t yet exist.
Among the menagerie of colleges Rubado considered, only two offered swim programs: Augustana University and South Dakota State University. As she assessed her high school performances, Rubado knew that her times weren’t fast enough for Division I. Yet Division II Augustana remained in reach.
“I would be at the slower end of DII, but it provided a challenge for me to better myself,” Rubado said. “That’s what drew me to email coach [Lindsie] Micko about the possibility of me swimming.”
The only catch? Augustana had never had a swimming program.
In the fall of 2016, Rubado and 16 other athletes comprised Augustana’s inaugural women’s swim team. Though some might view the newness as an obstacle, Rubado saw it as an asset. She said that she and her teammates entered the year with a unified mindset: “to compete at their best ability while adapting to a new environment and coach.”
Of course, challenges still existed.
“It was hard to form that team bond right away,” Rubado said. Yet, the excitement of creating a new team motivated the athletes to overcome these challenges.
“It was a fresh start and a time for me to improve myself and my swimming,” Rubado said. “And since most of the team was composed of freshmen, we all had to figure it out together which helped bond the team as well.”
Currently a junior, Rubado said she has enjoyed her time so far as an Augustana athlete. Yet, Rubado and her teammates must again trust an unstable future. As freshmen, they built a new swim program from scratch. And as juniors, they face uncertainty after Augustana announced its transition to Division I athletics.
“I didn’t know if [the Division I transition] was going to affect our graduating class, and being a small team, it would be hard to compete with teams like USD and SDSU,” Rubado said. “[But] I was also excited, because it’s a big step to grow as a university.”
Still, Rubado believed Augustana would be at a disadvantage overall — especially considering their small swim team. According to Rubado, many Division I swim rosters boast 30-40 women — including divers, which Augustana lacks.
And like several athletes, Rubado worried that Division I didn’t match Augustana’s culture.
It still makes me nervous for the future of the school and athletics, as we emphasize community, and the [university’s] slogan is ‘the place for possibilities.'” Rubado said. “DII is a good fit for Augustana.”