Swimming and Diving

Nikolaev returns for 2nd pro season in ISL

29 Th11 2021 | 07:55

When Mark Nikolaev scored points for DC Trident last year, he scored points with his first pro bosses too.

The DC Trident brass decided to bring back Nikolaev for his second season with the International Swimming League professional club. Roster for the league’s 10 teams are not complete, but Nikolaev was one of only three swimmers from non-Power Five programs on ISL rosters last year.

Just as the 2019 All-American raised the stature of GCU swimming when he finished third nationally in the 100-yard backstroke, Nikolaev helped DC Trident score last season with his speed and versatility.

“They wanted him back on the team,” Lopes head coach Steve Schaffer said. “They love him. First, he’s a lot of fun and just a really good kid. They love having him around. He’s a good sprinter.

“He’s thrilled that they picked him up again. He likes the team aspect. He loved the college thing and loved his first go-around with the ISL.”

The ISL’s third regular season will begin Aug. 26 in Naples, Italy, and lead up to playoffs for the top eight teams in November. A final will square off the top two teams in late December/early January.

“There is so much talent there,” Nikolaev said on a video blog. “This is an incredible opportunity for all of the swimmers from the entire world.”

DC Trident general manager Kaitlin Sandeno, a two-time Olympian, and head coach Cyndi Gallagher, the former 31-year coach of UCLA women’s swimming, chose to re-sign Nikolaev as a free agent after the ISL’s first draft this year. Nikolaev’s 2021 teammates include Katie Ledecky and Natalie Coughlin.

“It’s a big thing for us to be able to say we have an athlete in the ISL,” Schaffer said. “It is something that is going to pick up more steam as each year goes on. It’s just like how baseball feels about getting a kid in the minor leagues and all the way up. This is as high as it goes for pro swimming. It’s a great opportunity for him.”