Virginia swimmer Jack Aikins, a member of the 2023-24 U.S. National team and a 2022 NCAA All-American, is taking a gap year to prepare for the 2024 U.S. Olympic trials and will not compete during the 2023-24 NCAA season. He is not taking classes at Virginia but will continue to train the school and serve as a captain for the swimming and diving team.
Due to this gap year, Aikins will graduate in 2026 rather than 2025 as he originally set out to. He has two seasons of collegiate eligibility remaining.
Aikins told SwimSwam that he contemplated a gap year because “a lot of things didn’t go [his] way last season.” First, he herniated a disc in his back sometime during the month between the 2023 ACC Championships and NCAA Championships, which caused him to miss training and lose the ability to do turns and underwaters for a period of time. At NCAAs last season, he placed 41st in the 50 free (19.50), 32nd in the 100 back (46.21), and 25th in the 200 back (1:41.45), adding time from his season-bests in all of his events.
Then Aikins missed the 2023 U.S. World Championships this June at U.S. Nationals, setting a best time but finishing third in the 200 back (1:56.03) for the second year in a row at a Worlds qualification meet. After Nationals, thoughts of potentially not swimming a typical 2023-24 NCAA season came to his mind. Ultimately, he decided on a gap year upon talking to Virginia head coach Todd DeSorbo and his club team, SwimAtlanta.
“I figured it was the be the best thing for me,” Aikins said of his decision to do a gap year. “Just so that no matter what happens, next time we’re at trials, I can have no regrets and look back and say I did everything I could to put myself in the best position possible.”
Prior to when he decided not to compete NCAA this season, Aikins had been voted as a team captain by his teammates. When he made the choice to take a gap year, the other Virginia captains let him decide whether he wanted to keep his captainship, which he ended up doing.
Notably, Aikins is still listed on Virginia’s 2023-24 swimming and diving roster — similar to his teammate and transfer Claire Curzan, who is training with Virginia and attending classes but not swimming in the NCAA season.
“I’m not technically part of the NCAA team, but I’m still training with the team and pushing those guys and girls every single day,” Aikins said. “[I’m] trying to be the best captain I can behind the scenes, really.”
Aikins last competed at the 2023 Pan American Games, where he won gold in the 200 back (1:56.58). Prior to the meet, he shaved and rested, but he said that he “did not do a complete taper” for the meet because he did not return to full-time fall training with Virginia until around four to five weeks before the meet. He is next set to race at the 2023 U.S. Open and is one of three Virginia swimmers racing at the 2024 World Championships in Doha.
One major reason why Aikins agreed to go to Doha was to gain international racing experience.
“I would have had a light rest meet in the early spring anyways leading up to trials, and we figured that [Worlds] would be a good opportunity to get that done,” Aikins said. “As well as [to] get more international experience before trials.”
At the 2022 NCAA championships, Aikins recorded his highest-ever career finish, placing 9th in the 200 back (1:39.26) in a team record time. Without him, the only returning NCAA Championships scorer competing on the Virginia men’s team this season are seniors Noah Nichols and Matt Brownstead.