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Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor

Quintero, Colupaev in 200y Free NCAA Final.jpgLike the final leg of a 4x100y relay, the USC men's swimming team is fast approaching the final stretch of the season. Last year, the Trojans finished fourth at the 2013 NCAA Championships, the team's best finish since 2001, and this year's seniors are back with the goal of ending their career in memorable fashion.

Dimitri Colupaev, Jack Wagner and Chase Bloch are three members of the core group of seniors who have been through every moment together. With lots of work still to be done in the final two months of the season, the threesome is thankful for everything that's brought them to their last lap.

Colupaev, Bloch and Wagner began their USC careers at the top. As a part of the number one recruiting class in the nation in 2010, the three were immediately expected to make an impact in the pool, and they did.  Colupaev arrived from Germany after a very impressive international prep career, and in his time at USC he has won one NCAA relay title, two Pac-12 individual titles, three Pac-12 relay titles, and is a 10-time All-American. He swam in the 2012 Olympics and holds the USC record in the 200y free and 200y IM.

Undefeated in high school as a six-time New York state champion, Jack Wagner also kicked off his Trojan career with the bar set high. In his last three seasons, the four-time All-American has found a place in the USC record book at second overall in the 50y free and fourth in the 100y free.

Bloch entered USC not far from his home in Malibu where he was a high school national champion his senior year. Bloch is the third-fastest Trojan in the 100y fly and the fourth in the 200y back.

"The expectations have been there since day one," explains Bloch. "I think the only thing that's kind of changed is that all three of us are captains. We have a leadership role and are working to teach the freshmen what we've learned over the past four years. Obviously we lost Vlad [Morozov] last year. It's not necessarily that the three of us need to step up, but that we need to get everyone to step up as a whole. We've been doing it since freshman year but it's going to take a team effort to get top four again."

Wagner, Jack pg1112.jpgThe Trojans took a big hit at the end of last season when Vladmir Morozov, winner of NCAA titles in the 50y and 100y sprints as well as the 4x100y relay, decided to turn pro and forgo his senior year at USC. To an outsider it would appear difficult to fill the void left by Morozov but according to the senior threesome, USC is back this year with a national championship in mind.

"We've totally improved in depth," says senior Dimitri Colupaev. "We lost Vlad, one of the biggest contributors at the NCAA Championships, but one guy doesn't make the whole team. With him gone I see an overall improvement in general depth. We have a great freshmen class coming in and we have good guys who are going to score in two or three events which is big. We are going to be smarter with our setup, moving people into races where they have better chances of scoring."

As they work to end their Trojan careers on top, the three seniors reflect on what it has taken to succeed in the past four years. A sometimes understated piece to their preparation along the way has been the ability to train internationally and alongside some of the best swimmers in the world. According to Bloch, swimming near the Trojan Swim Club, a professional club team that trains at USC, has been a unique and important source of knowledge and confidence in his past four years.

"We get to train with some of the best people in the world every day and that's something that we try to tell the freshmen," says Bloch. "We explain that when they get to NCAAs they don't need to be scared because they've already trained against some of the best people in each event. That's been huge, getting to learn from pros who are the best at what they do."

Additionally, Colupaev, who swims overseas in the offseason, has benefited greatly from racing in international competition.

"In our sport you have to train all year round," he says. "We cannot stop training when the season's over at the end of March, and that's when the international season begins. Swimming internationally means you stay in shape, you improve, and you have goals to work toward all year."

The Trojans are quickly approaching the end of their season with the NCAA Championships set to begin on March 27. So far the team has been unstoppable, winning each of their dual meets against Arizona, Arizona State, and Wisconsin. Ranked No. 3 in the latest poll, the Trojans are coming off an impressive performance at the SMU Classic where they finished third. As they make the turn at the wall for the final stretch of their senior season, the group believes they're in prime position.

"I think we are doing exactly what we need to do right now," says Colupaev confidently. "We have four tough competitions coming up before NCAAs. It's going to be a great opportunity to work on strategy in individual races and to get a team spirit going. We've prepared our bodies very well and everybody is ready to go. Now we're looking forward to racing and I think it's going to be good."

As construction on the Uytengsu Aquatic Center reaches an end this month, the seniors are looking forward to the opportunity to break in the brand new stadium in their final home meet on February 21 against Utah. While they won't get to use the state-of-the-art facilities for long, each is excited by the idea that they will forever be the first to leave their mark.

"I like that we get to use it when it's brand new because technically after we use it, it will never be new again," explains Wagner. "One of those lockers will always have been mine and we will always be the first group to get to swim here."

"I think it's really cool that the opening of it is our senior weekend," added Bloch. "Everyone is going to be here for that and that's going to be really special."

"We get to baptize it," Colupaev finishes. "We get to start everything here."

The start of the Uytengsu Center era will mark the end of this Trojan trio's journey. They came from different places, with excellence in different events, but the most important part of their tale is that they've been through it all together.

"Coming from Germany I didn't even know what USC was," laughed Colupaev. "I've got to appreciate the school and the student environment more and more every year. It means a lot to me to be able to graduate from USC. I've met amazing people and it's been great."

"It's exciting," said Bloch with a smile. "It's been a long journey but we've been through it all together and I think that's what makes it special. Especially the three of us. We went to NCAAs together as freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and now its our senior year. It's been a great opportunity to have been able to come here. It's really cool to have been a part of USC and to now be able to say I'm a part of the Trojan Family. It's definitely been a special ride so far."

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