The UNM women’s swimming and diving team is back on the prowl after last season’s lowly sixth-place finish in the Mountain West Conference.

The Lobos posted a 7-5-1 record under former head coach Tracy Ljone, who left the program in May after seven years with UNM. The University hired head swim coach Kunio Kono on June 26.

The Lobos started this season with a 3-3 record, capturing wins over Air Force, Colorado State and New Mexico State. UNM beat the Falcons 167-143 in the opening meet of the year on Oct. 5 and defeated the Rams and the Aggies in a quad meet on Nov. 2 and 3.
Kono said the squad got off to a mediocre start but has demonstrated a solid effort during training.

“Well, the last two months, we have had a lot of ups and downs. But the positive thing is that we have been training very hard,” he said.

One of the best swimmers this year has been senior Marissa Campbell, who holds UNM’s 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke all-time records. Campbell said this season gave her an opportunity to strive for a conference championship.

“Our team has come a long way from the last couple years. We have been training our hearts out, and we have different attitudes this year,” she said. “Our one main goal is to eventually win conference.”

But the path to a Mountain West championship is not an easy one.

San Diego State (9-0) is consistently a top-25 squad. Also, Wyoming (3-0), Air Force (6-3), Boise State (2-1) and Nevada (3-2) are ahead of New Mexico in the Mountain West standings.

Kono said he expects that by the end of the year, the Lobos will finish at least third in the MWC.

“This year will be difficult with how deep and talented our conference is,” he said. “We have a lot of confidence, and we’re looking at a top-three finish in the conference with our new training in place.”

Kono, a native of Osaka, Japan, brings plenty of experience to the table for New Mexico. He was a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Southern California and coached several swimmers who later competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. He spent two years as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Alabama, where he coached seven swimmers to All-American honors.

Kono said the Olympic expertise has not only helped him as a coach, but has already impacted the current New Mexico team.

“I was lucky to watch and coach the highest level kids. But no one is ever given a team with the most talent from everyone, so I told the team that. I actually brought some Olympic team members from Japan to talk and teach them,” he said.

Kono is no stranger to the Mountain West Conference: he also spent nine years as UNLV’s associate head coach for men’s swimming, during which the team won seven consecutive MWC championships.

Although UNM’s swim team has struggled, the diving team has shined.

The diving team competed in its final meet for 2012 before the season picks up again in January. The swimmers will compete in their last 2012 meet at the UNLV Invitational on Dec. 15, 16 and 17 in Las Vegas, Nev.