Simon Fraser Locked Out of NCAAs Due To Not Competing In Enough Sanctioned Meets

Six swimmers from the Simon Fraser University swimming & diving team will not be competing at this year’s NCAA Division II Championships despite swimming fast enough to do so.

The team failed to reach the minimum number of sanctioned intercollegiate competitions, one of the NCAA requirements, and therefore will have its swimmers sit on the sidelines one year after a historic performance at the 2022 championships.

The team’s coaching staff was unaware of the issue until it was too late—they were notified less than 48 hours before the list of NCAA D2 qualifiers was released—as the rule about what constitutes a sanctioned meet changed from last year, head coach Demone Tissira told SwimSwam Monday.

“Heartbroken. It’s a really upsetting situation,” Tissira said.

NCAA Division II compliance says a team must compete in a minimum of eight intercollegiate competitions with at least 11 participants (per gender).

Last year, Tissira said the program asked the NCAA if a collegiate competition that also involves age group swimmers would still count towards the sanctioned total of meets, and they were told that it would.

“They said there’s no rule that prohibits age groupers from attending college competition, college-hosted meets. So we said, ‘OK, we are safe.’ And then this year they said, “no you can’t.’ So we don’t know why they shifted their interpretation from this year to last year. We understand if it’s the rule it’s the rule, but not why last year it was OK and not this year.”

Tissira said the team was officially credited with having competed in seven intercollegiate competitions, one below the minimum, despite having actually raced in “11 or 12” meets over 16 days of competition.

He said the NCAA said that once a competition has age groupers in it, it becomes a USA Swimming competition, rather than a collegiate meet.

“Since when?” Tissira said. “Last year we asked if there is any issue, and you said no.”

This only further complicates things as Simon Fraser is a Canadian university—the only one in the NCAA—which isn’t a part of USA Swimming.

The Odlum Brown Colleges Cup in November, which featured a group of all-star club swimmers along with several Canadian universities, was the competition at the root of the issue.

When questioning why this interpretation changed, Tissira said the NCAA let certain things go due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022, but wasn’t going to be lenient this year. The minimum meet requirement was also only six meets last year.

“They said, ‘last year with COVID we were soft, but now we cannot let anything slide’,” Tissira said. “But you told who you were soft? The rule is the rule. Why do you have the power to say yes and no? The rule is the rule. Just tell us, this is the rule.

“We learned the hard way. I get it. I take 100 percent responsibility, it is mine. But we need to understand why you have the ability to change the interpretation.”

SFU Senior Director of Athletics and Reaction, Theresa Hanson, provided the following statement on the matter:

SFU Athletics learned last week that SFU Swimming program did not meet selection criteria for the NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships.

The athletics team is deeply saddened by this news, and we are supporting the six student-athletes who are impacted. A misinterpretation of what qualifies as a NCAA competition resulted in SFU being one competition short for championship selection. An annual local swim meet that the team has regularly competed in, does not meet the current criteria for a qualifying NCAA competition in its current format.

SFU Athletics & Recreation sincerely apologizes for this error and the impact it has on these students. We will be reviewing our competition verification process and making improvements to ensure this type of error never happens again.

The university is extremely proud of our swimmers’ accomplishments this season and applaud their hard work and dedication.

Quincy University, a first-year program, also failed to meet the qualification standard due to its roster being too small.

Tissira also mentioned the team’s early-season trip to the University of Pacific, where the Redleafs raced against the host Tigers and the University of Nevada over two days. One day was raced as an invitational, and one day was raced as a dual meet, but SFU listed it as a two-day invite on their schedule and only had it count as one meet. Nevada, on the other hand, listed the meets separately.

“They counted it as one contest, not two. If you go to the Pacific or Nevada team websites, they count it as two. But they didn’t let us count it as two.

“We made sure that we did everything,” he said. “And once we found out, and (the NCAA) had released their list, we knew we couldn’t win an appeal.”

Tissira also mentioned that there was an issue with counting the Husky Invitational towards their official meet count, as it was not hosted by a university.

Last season, the SFU women finished eighth in the team race, the highest in program history, while the men had just their second individual championship victory come as they placed 14th overall.

The female swimmers in position to qualify for NCAAs were Jordan Doner (100 breast), Isabelle Roth (100/200 breast), Kaysha Bikadi (200 back), Tori Meklensek (500/1650 free) and Abigail Williams (100 free, 100 back), along with four of the five relays. On the men’s side, Matthew Fuller was in position to qualify in the 200 freestyle.

Among those six swimmers, only Meklensek and Roth competed individually at last year’s championships, while Bikadi, Doner and Fuller were relay-only swimmers.

Tissira broke the news to the entire team prior to the announcement of the NCAA qualifiers last Wednesday.

“We explained to them the reason, we gave them the details of every single thing, as a team. Not only the six who had qualified. The whole team was in the room.

“We asked them to be together and to start their next season’s goals right now,” he said, noting that the whole team attended practice the next morning. “They are sad, but they support each other. It’s the type of situation where you’ll see how strong your team is.”

Four of SFU’s meets during the 2022-23 season included them competing against Canadian U SPORTS teams rather than those in the NCAA. With the clampdown this year, Tissira now wonders if SFU will be able to race Canadian universities at all moving forward, as those meets are not sanctioned by USA Swimming.

He acknowledged that being a Canadian school in the NCAA does make setting a competition schedule somewhat difficult, due to various travel costs.

“Some universities, even if you invite them, can only do bus trips.

“With budgets and restrictions, and some Americans don’t even have a passport.”

The Simon Fraser swimming & diving team has undergone drastic changes over the last year, as numerous swimmers departed the program in the 2022 offseason to join former SFU coach Liam Donnelly, who started up a pro group at Simon Fraser Aquatics. A total of 16 of 26 swimmers who were either freshmen, sophomores or juniors during the 2021-22 season did not return in 2022-23.

Among those was the 2022 NCAA Division II champion in the men’s 400 IM, Collyn Gagne, and 2022 All-American Kennedy Loewen, who both opted to end their collegiate careers early to join the pro group under Donnelly.

Tissira was officially named the SFU head coach in June 2021, taking over from Donnelly, who had been the team’s coach dating back to 1992.

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Tim Woinoski
29 days ago

I just want to apologize for my brother’s and JImmy’s comments.

Katie R
Reply to  Tim Woinoski
29 days ago

Thanks Tim, I would also like to apologize on behalf of Jimmy. Jimmy cares deeply for every athlete on that team and is just trying to shine light on issues being presented by the coach. He just doesn’t want to see any more athletes hurt by Demone. I apologize if that was misunderstood.

Last edited 29 days ago by Katie R
Reply to  Katie R
29 days ago

You hurt your own teammates, for your own interest with all your comment on social media about “team looser”. NO excuse

Last edited 29 days ago by SwimNer
Reply to  Tim Woinoski
29 days ago

I come on here and the first and third comments I see on a story about the NCAA Canadian team are “sorrrrry”. I thought that was just a stereotype.

Andrew Woinoski
Reply to  Tim Woinoski
29 days ago

I think whats even worse is impersonating someone. You will be reported. I have the right to make a comment about my old team as an alumni and old captain of the team.

Tim Woinoski
Reply to  Andrew Woinoski
27 days ago

I want to apologize on behalf of my brother again. Sorry about that folks

30 days ago

So much tea being spilled in these comments and I’m here for it.

Brad Morris
30 days ago

Surely at this point the head coach should be fired for the negligence. Also are they any actual “Elite” swimmers in this “Pro” group besides Gagne? Let’s not call a guy going 55 for 100bk as “Elite”.

Last edited 30 days ago by Brad Morris
Reply to  Brad Morris
30 days ago

3 out of 7 of them have ISL draft times and are in the ‘pro’ group. The other 4 are in the elite.

Reply to  optout
30 days ago

The ISL may be finito now that the Ukrainian oligarch who founded it has other preoccupations.

Reply to  anon
30 days ago

Ok? doesn’t mean they’re going to the ISL lol, it’s just a ‘qualifying’ time to get into the pro group

Reply to  Brad Morris
30 days ago

Exactly. Most of these times that the “pro” group swimmers are putting down can be qualified as just above average age grouper times…

Reply to  Juggo
30 days ago

Incorrect. No one on the SFU team has an ISL draft time. 3 of them did and they all left.

Reply to  Juggo
30 days ago

Here they are:
comment image
Please let me know which of these times are ‘just above average’ age group times.

Reply to  optout
30 days ago

I looked at your previous post and didn’t realize that in SFA people who qualified for the ISL time standards were labelled as “pro” and people who didn’t were labelled as “elite”. Regardless, many if not most swimmers in this so called “high performance group” haven’t seen any, if not very little, increases in their time being coached by Liam. I guess my argument is more towards those in the elite section based on what you’re saying about the groups. Like jimmy only dropping from a 56.9 to a 55.2 SCM back or swimming a 58.3 LCM fly and 58.8 LCM back (I bet that it’ll take more than a 58.3 fly or 58.8 back to place top 5 in… Read more »

Last edited 30 days ago by Juggo
Reply to  Juggo
29 days ago

Again, the swimmers do not pay to swim with Liam. The HPA funds their swimming and travel. And as a 22 year old male, those drops in time you labelled above are actually pretty decent. And Jimmy didn’t stay with a coach he didn’t see improvement with. He left Demone to go to Liam. In 2021, Jimmy trained with Liam for 3 months and got the first 2 Canadian trials times of his career.

Last edited 29 days ago by optout
1 month ago

Look, its not like the coaching at the sfa pro group is any better. Many of these swimmers who have moved either quit or their times haven’t improved drastically since highschool, with all of them still being at 500-700 fina points. If you want to see improvements in your swimming, go to a club, uni, or coach with a record of success.

1 month ago

All a moot point, if the coach continues to treat athletes poorly and disregard rules for his own benefit it lands on the athletic director. He has been enabled to act this way via zero consequences and oversight. The department as a whole is inept, very poor hiring practices from AD with no NCAA experience of new personal. That’s with out mentioning the crazy nepotism. All linked to UBC and her husband / family friends.

D1 Swammer
1 month ago

Man, I feel bad for these kids.
I worked 4 years to qualify for 1 NCAAs – It was the highlight of my swim career.

I can’t imagine the frustration and disappoint they are feeling.

Parent of a swammer
Reply to  D1 Swammer
1 month ago

2 of the swimmers are seniors, so disappointing for them!

1 month ago

“A total of 16 of 26 swimmers who were either freshmen, sophomores or juniors during the 2021-22 season did not return in 2022-23.
Among those was the 2022 NCAA Division II champion in the men’s 400 IM, Collyn Gagne, and 2022 All-American Kennedy Loewen, who both opted to end their collegiate careers early to join the pro group under Donnelly.”

Why read any more than that. Look at the coach’s track record back at Regina.
Year after year – lots of attrition.
Coming into his last season in USports the Cougars had more underclassman choose to transfer or quit than return.
Over the course of his 6 years, only one girl finished her 5 years of eligibility, only… Read more »

Swim Mom
1 month ago

Why is a Canadian University competing in the NCAA and nor U Sports? Honest question.

Reply to  Swim Mom
1 month ago

The primary reason is that the school’s teams play American football and not Canadian football.

It’s kind of an interesting backstory. They played in the NAIA when they launched a football team in 1965. They were then rejected by the NCAA in 1997, and joined CIS, and switched to Canadian football.

But they always wanted to switch back to American football, and they finally were accepted in 2009 for the 2010 season, so now they’re back to American football.

They play an annual football game against UBC where they alternate between Canadian and American rule sets.

Reply to  Braden Keith
30 days ago

Best part of this is it still manages to shine a light on the pure idiocy of SFU football. All involved to push football into NCAA are clueless, cried the loudest for what they wanted and will not have a program 2 years from now. SFU admin and alumni making decisions with no experience or expertise in the sport landscape thought the program would be viable down south. Maybe if current admin weren’t so busy committing time and money to the Shrum Bowl and worst program in SFU NCAA history, all other student athletes wouldn’t be left behind. Stop bickering over coaches, SFU swim athletes suffer because the vision of athletics is focused elsewhere.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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