Kylie Masse swam for the Varsity Blues from 2014–2019. PHOTO BY MARTIN BAZYL COURTESY OF THE VARSITY BLUES

After one season with the Cali Condors in the International Swim League (ISL), Varsity Blues swimming alum Kylie Masse is coming home to Toronto to compete for her home city’s new expansion franchise.

Masse is an Olympic bronze medalist, a previous world-record holder in the women’s 100-metre backstroke, and a two-time world champion in the 100-metre backstroke. The Toronto Titans are one of two expansion franchises in the ISL’s second year of existence.

Their general manager, Rob Kent, is also a former U of T swimmer. In an email to The Varsity, Kent praised the ISL’s members, calling each a “star.”

“It is much harder to make an ISL team than it is to make the Olympic team, for the simple reason that there are fewer spots and the competition for those spots is much tougher than it is even to make the Olympics. So that is the base level you are working with, the best of the best, just to get in the door.”

Kent wrote that even within this competitive group of swimmers, Masse stands out, as she is one of the best in the world: “So to say that she is a key signing is an understatement.”

Masse is the first major signing for the Titans, but they hope that she is not the last.

“Kylie was our first announcement, but there are plenty of other Canadians and international swimmers to be announced over the next few days too,” Kent wrote. “And we are signing more almost every day.”

Among the names that ISL hopes to bring over are Penny Oleksiak, who won four medals at the 2016 Olympics, as well as Kayla Sanchez, Sydney Pickrem, and Kelsey Wog.

Although Masse is an exception, many swimmers do not have agents, which makes the recruitment process much different and less formal than that of other professional sports leagues.

Kent says that many general managers do not have a direct point of contact to the athletes whom they are hoping to recruit, and are discussing with coaches to figure out who knows the swimmer.

He also noted that he didn’t need to sell Masse too hard on the idea of coming back to Toronto. “Clearly you have to make a good financial offer, but any team is capable of doing that, and we are under a salary cap, so that part is even,” Kent wrote.

“I just believe that if you lay out all the pros and cons, on top of a good financial offer, then you will end up with the swimmers that really want to be there, and aren’t there just for the money.”

Masse’s agent, Elliott Kerr, added that Masse mainly wanted to come home. “Everything that Kylie does, says Canada first,” wrote Kerr in an email to The Varsity.

“She attends a world class university here, she receives world class coaching here, she enjoys world class facilities here and her family is here. Many world class swimmers travel south of the border, but Kylie chose Toronto. It made total sense to me that she became a member of the Toronto Titans.”

Kerr corroborated the rather unique process that is behind recruiting in the ISL. “When I first heard that Toronto had secured an ISL franchise, I immediately reached out to Rob Kent to discuss the possibilities. It was very clear to me that a Toronto franchise would be interested in Canada’s world champion.In concept I was intrigued, but I needed to be convinced that solid ownership and management was in place.”

“After my first meeting with Rob, I knew the Toronto franchise was in good hands.”

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