Andrew Shortall, Asst. Sports Information Director RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Whether it was the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference or NCAA Division II Championships, Brandon Schuster didn’t show any nerves in his first season at California Baptist University.
“He’s a gamer; when he came in at the semester he had no fear of any of the meets we went too,” Coach Rick Rowland said of Schuster. “He’d competed on the world scene already; he’d been to some big-time swim meets.”
Schuster is headed to another big event at the end of July, as he is slated to swim at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, for his home country of Samoa. The World Championships will run July 14-30, but Schuster won’t swim toward the end of the event July 27-30 in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys.
Don’t expect Schuster to be overwhelmed at all. The IM specialist competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil last August, and this summer marks the sixth time he will swim at the World Championships after first getting his feet wet on the World stage as a 13-year old in 2012.
“It’s been progressively changing for me at the World Championships,” said the 19-year-old Schuster. “It still is about the experience for me, but now it’s specialized. Before, I would go swim 12 events, and then it went down to eight and six and now I have my two events. It’s cool because now I can look back and see how my swims have changed and what I’m getting better at.
“Mentality-wise, I think I have matured a lot through representing my country. Over time, it has become more natural and it’s really fun.”
These last six years of international training under his mother, who is the national swimming coach of Samoa, helped Schuster make a seamless transition to the college level.
Coach Rowland’s big pickup in the middle of the season, Schuster, finished fourth in all of Division II in the 400-yard individual medley, with a time of three minutes, 48.81 seconds. It was the third-best finish for CBU swimming – men or women – this season and set a new CBU record in the process. It was one of the most successful freshmen seasons in program history, according to Rowland, even though it was only a semester long.
“He was a huge pickup, being top eight in that 400 IM was huge; the time he went and breaking the record as a freshman was kind of a shocker,” Rowland said.
Schuster will make even more CBU history this year at the World Championships, becoming the second Lancer to ever swim at the international event. Felix Sutanto, who was named the NAIA Male Outstanding Swimmer of the Year in both of his seasons at CBU in 2002 and 2003, was the first to do so for his country of Indonesia.
Rowland has not only made himself better but made his training partners better, as well, with his dedication and work ethic. He also gives the Lancers a jack of all trades in the pool.
“He really doesn’t have a weak stroke, we can really put him in anything,” Rowland said. “I think we are going to continue to see rapid drops on his times as he fills out and continues to grow.”
Even though he had already achieved so much in the swimming world, Schuster and his family knew he needed to go to college to improve as a swimmer overall. Especially when Schuster reached the point where he became one of the top swimmers in his country and no longer had a training partner to push him in his signature events.
The 6-foot-2 IM specialist had reached a point where none of his national training partners could challenge him in workouts.
“It definitely got lonesome in training,” Schuster said.
CBU brought another level of training and friendly competition Schuster had not experienced in some time.
“At this level, the training and strength training with us seemed to be really beneficial to him and he was able to drop some time,” Rowland said. “Collegiate swimming is really going to help him.”
With the Lancers, Schuster is working with a bigger group of athletes and is pushed harder in training.
“It was a completely different feeling,” Schuster said. “I was on a high so much, and that high carried me throughout the semester. I definitely prefer training with other people around, because it’s a completely different sport. You’re all training with a bunch of other people who have the same goal of going faster for your school.
“The coaches here have been great, Coach Lisa [Siregar] and Rick [Rowland] have been awesome and sculpted me. I came here very rough and now I’m less rough.”
Schuster and his siblings were encouraged to swim by their parents to “keep fit.” They all enjoyed it and took their interest to the next level. With that came the realization that he would need to swim collegiately in the United States to continue progressing as an athlete.
When it came time to start looking at colleges, California Baptist University was one of the stops for Schuster and his family. It did not take long for him and his entire family to fall in love with the school and the coaching staff.
“I liked the school a lot,” said Schuster, who is a bio-medical engineer major and took a calculus course this summer on top of his training in the pool.
The feeling was mutual.
“He really fell in love with the school, the engineering program and the Christian environment, it was really a perfect fit for him,” Rowland said. “He was endeared to everyone right away, too. He’s a really laid-back, fun guy.”
Even with all his accomplishments already, there is still a lot Schuster wants to achieve as a swimmer. The big goal he has his eye on is representing Samoa again at the 2020 Olympics. He and the CBU coaching staff would like so him get some automatic NCAA Division II qualifying times under his belt early next year.
The most immediate goal for Schuster comes later this month at the World Championships. He hopes to improve on his 400-meter IM personal record of four minutes, 36 seconds and hit 4:30.
“My coaches and everyone has been telling me I can do it, I just need to be mentally prepared for it,” Schuster said. “I should be able to do it, I’ve been training and I just need to believe and keep praying. I just need to know I can do it, know I’ve put my side in and God’s put His side in.”