The UAA swimming and diving championships begin tomorrow, and Chicago’s teams are hoping to come away this year with nothing less than their all-time best.
That will require that both the men and women finish at least third at the conference meet, which opens tomorrow afternoon at Emory and concludes Saturday evening. At last year’s championship, which was held here at Chicago, the two teams each placed fourth, and those showings stand as their current bests at UAAs.
”We were just outside of third place,” head coach Jason Weber said of last year’s meet. “Less than 30 points on the guys’ side, and around 30 points on the girls’ side, so we were very, very close to getting top three, and I think that left sort of a sour taste in our mouths. Even though we got the best finish ever, we want to break into the top three.”
It was Wash U that just barely clipped the men, 1080–1057, at the 2009 meet, and on the women’s half Carnegie Mellon edged Chicago, 1060–1028.5, to keep the Maroons out of third place. Those same teams will once again be competing with Chicago for spots inside the top three, but this season, both teams seem confident that the coveted third spot is theirs to lose.
“We will absolutely improve on last year’s performance,” third-year James Schlabach said. “Our team has a lot of depth this year, and we’ve had a lot of fast swims—best times and provisional NCAA cuts—during the hardest parts of the season. Now that we’re rested, I’m sure that we’ll hit it.”
Weber said that with a particularly strong meet, the women could take second, but for both Chicago squads—as for most of the rest of the UAA—first place will be out of the question because when it comes to intercollegiate swimming, the host Emory Eagles might as well be water fowl. No other UAA team has won a men’s or women’s title in swimming since Johns Hopkins did so in 1998, and Emory’s dominance has been mostly unchallenged since Hopkins departed the league in 2001.
To crack the top three, the Maroons will need to show that not only are they deep as a team but that individually they can contend for the top spots in a variety of events. Points are awarded to the first 24 individual finishers in an event, but the first few places are worth considerably more.
”First place scores a lot of points, which can add up quickly with just a couple of swims,” first-year Olivia Mapes said.
Mapes said she believed this year’s Maroons have both the depth and the core of top swimmers needed to be among the top three when the final results are posted Saturday night.
Even without the chance to beat their all-time best finish, the Maroons would have ample motivation at UAAs because the conference meet is probably the most important team meet of their season. The majority of the swimmers have tapered off their training in order to be fresh for this week, and for most, this will be the capstone of their season. Others who do especially well this weekend could even earn spots at the national meet in March.
”[This meet] is our main focus,” Weber said. “We want to put up some fast times, break some records, hopefully get third as a team on both sides and get a lot of people to qualify for NCAAs.”