Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
Kier Maitland prefaces the story by saying he's from Canada. He knows cold weather.
But Maitland, a UNLV junior and last year's Mountain West Swimmer of the Year, never has experienced a winter quite as cruel as this year's in Las Vegas. That's because UNLV has regularly practiced outdoors at Henderson's Multigenerational Center at 6 a.m., with temperatures as low as 30 degrees.
"Sometimes when you were swimming, you could see your breath because you would be so cold," Maitland said. "Sometimes, it gets to you like, 'I'm so cold, I can't do this.'"
Luckily for Maitland and the rest of his teammates, UNLV is set to unveil the renovated Buchanan Natatorium this week.
The Rebels will hold a grand reopening of their pool at 12:30 p.m. Friday before a home meet against Wyoming. UNLV will also host a meet Saturday against Air Force.
"We designed this pool to be the best possible training facility and a place where we can hold college meets and invites. Within that framework, this is a great pool," UNLV swimming coach Jim Reitz said.
Reitz said the new pool could help UNLV's renowned swimming program — the men's team has won four Mountain West championships in a row — reach new heights.
He said some of the changes to the pool, which cost slightly less than its budgeted $5.5 million, would make it easier to recruit.
The facility features a new locker room for the Rebels. The pool goes from seven- to 14-feet deep, whereas the old one was only four feet. UNLV also replaced the outdated aluminum base with concrete, ensuring the pool won't deteriorate as quickly as the original one.
"It's a well-designed pool," Reitz said. "We can now add water polo as an emerging sport because it is deep enough. In the future, to balance our gender-equity numbers, it would be great."
Reitz said that the improved natatorium is a major development for the swimming community in Nevada. It is the best venue in the state for high school state championships and other meets, he said.
Mike Polk, coach of the Boulder City-Henderson swim team, agreed.
"Over the course of the years, most of the big meets have been at the facility, so the kids have gotten to swim there for major competitions," Polk said. "It's an exciting environment."
Polk swam at UNLV in the early 1980s. He grew up in Boulder City and can remember when the Buchanan Natatorium opened in 1974.
Since then, many people associated with the program have anticipated an eventual upgrade, he said.
"I think it's something we've all been hoping for for a number of years," Polk said. "I think everyone hoped it would be upgraded to the level of where the team is at. I'm happy that is happening now."
Led by Maitland, the UNLV men's team is ranked No. 23 in the nation this year.
The women's team, which has won four conference championships in Reitz's 29-year tenure, is off to a rough 1-6 start but won its last meet at New Mexico.
The energy coming from a new home venue can do nothing but help both teams' spirit.
"It's sort of like moving into a new house," Reitz said. "It's bright. There's new lighting. The whole atmosphere of the pool has changed."
There will be no more early morning outdoor practices for the Rebels.
"I never trained outdoors much," Maitland said. "I realized how tough it is that early in the morning when you're just in your swimsuit and not much else."