SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Art and design are already in the name. Now coach Bill Pilczuk wants to paint an additional picture about the Savannah College of Art & Design.
It has a very competitive swimming program.
The Bees will put both men's and women's top-ranked teams on display Wednesday when the four-day NAIA Swimming & Diving Championships begin at the Columbus Aquatic Center.
Four-time defending men's champion and three-time defending women's champion Oklahoma Baptist moved up to NCAA Division II, so new NAIA champions will be crowned.
SCAD has motivation. Its women placed second last season, and the Bees men finished third.
"I think coming in a close second is always motivation to do better," said backstroker Hannah Legg, one of 10 seniors on the SCAD women's team. "It would be nice to leave with a ring."
Pilczuk, who's in his first year as the head coach for both the SCAD men's and women's programs, has done his best to get the teams in position. He said recruiting top swimmers who were a good fit for the art school was the priority.
"Here we have art and design, but if you don't want to be an artist or designer, you can't really go to SCAD," said Pilczuk, who spent two years as the Bees assistant coach. "Artists are truly unique personalities so to find a school that's all about art and to have a top-level swim team, they're amazed they never heard of us."
Pilczuk got the word out by scouting national meets. His message was simple.
"If this is your passion, this is the place for you," he told recruits.
Artists got the message. All 19 swimmers on the men's team and all 22 on the women's team qualified for the NAIA championships -- only 18 can compete on each team -- so both teams are deep.
Depth is key because 16 swimmers in each event can score points in NAIA.
Joel Ax, from Germany, leads the Bees' men. Ax, who hopes to earn a spot with the German Olympic team, holds NAIA's top time in five freestyle events.
Mark Shvartsman, who missed last season with a shoulder injury, returned this year and posted NAIA's best time in the butterfly.
Tyler Prescott and Connor Wilson have NAIA's best times in the 200 backstroke and 200 breaststroke respectively.
Ax said a defining moment for the team so far this season came at the Bluegrass Mountain Conference Championships where SCAD finished sixth in the competitive, independent league -- and that was before tapering down in anticipation for the NAIA championships.
"Even though we were tired at conference, we still came close to times we swam at nationals last year," Ax said. "I guess everybody noticed we could actually pull off what we set as a goal. At the beginning of the year, we wanted to win nationals, but you're always doubting yourself a little. But the conference meet proved we're ready, we can do this."
SCAD's women were fifth in their portion of the conference meet. Legg (backstroke), Emma McKinley (butterfly) and Caroline Lepesant (freestyle) all had top five performances.
A strong freshman class, led by Abigail Richey, has given the team additional scoring.
"For the seniors, for four years they haven't won a title," Pilczuk said. "They want to put up a banner."
NAIA TOP 5
Men -- 1. Sav College of Art & Design (4 first-place votes) 63; 2. Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) (1) 57; 3. West Virginia Tech 48; 4. Lindenwood-Belleville (Ill.) 43; 5. Cumberlands (Ky.) 34.
Women -- 1. Sav College of Art & Design (5 first-place votes) 65; 2. Brenau (Ga.) 59; 3. Cumberlands (Ky.) 49; 4. Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) 44; 5. Biola (Calif.) 40.
IF YOU GO
What: 36th annual NAIA Men's and Women's Swimming & Diving Championship
Where: Columbus Aquatic Center
Schedule: There are 20 events with preliminaries in the morning and afternoon with finals in those same events that night.
Tickets: Call 706-660-1996