Maroons swim circles around competition at season’s first meet

By Ashley Hansen

Considering the paltry size of the University of Chicago swim team, it’s big news when meet results reveal that it has finished first place in all but one event. At their first official meet, the varsity team dominated the Benedictine University Eagles, with the men’s and women’s teams finishing with scores of 75-28, and 96-64, respectively.

Head coach Sheila O’Connor saw this meet as the first opportunity for the varsity team to “enter into pressured races, and push the aggressive factor” that isn’t present in practices. The meet was also a chance to see the spread of times among the new swimmers.

With only two returning swimmers on the men’s team, the meet’s stellar results were a surprise; but what the team had lost in experience, it made up for in sheer speed. First-year Dan Timke inaugurated his U of C swimming career with a win in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:54.58, blasting Benedictine’s Phil Smolinski out of contention by 15 seconds.

Timke’s win was just the beginning. Veterans Dennis Connolly (’05) and Joe Nagy (’04) followed his lead, taking first places in the 50-yard freestyle and 200-yard individual medley, respectively. Securing the team’s win was fourth-year Jason Brokaw, stealing first in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 1:03.50.

Though the distribution of the team’s talents is fairly even, Nagy raised a few eyebrows with his phenomenal finish of 1:00.93 in the 100-yard breaststroke. His time missed the National’s B-cut by a mere two seconds. “It’s exciting that he’s so close [to the National cut] so early in the season, even sustaining a knee injury,” said O’Connor.

On the women’s side, the meet commenced with second-year Erin Lyons and first-year Kathleen Meil snatching first and second places in the 200 freestyle. With this win under their belts, the U of C women proceeded to dominate in all events, save a second place finish in the 100 butterfly.

Driven by the cheers of her teammates, rookie Roxanne Rudowicz snatched gold in the 100 backstroke, passing Benedictine’s Megan Saba and Elaine Penkowski of Benedictine straight off the starting blocks and never looking back. Both Rudowicz and second-year Debora Ayoub took on Saba in the 200-yard individual medley. Ayoub, with her smooth butterfly and breaststroke, fell behind Saba during the backstroke lap, but came back strong in the breaststroke lap that followed. Pulling ahead of Saba by an entire body length, Ayoub claimed her gold with a finishing time of 2:33.31.

Despite sustaining a shoulder and back injury, second-year Emily Testa still managed to muscle through the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, claiming two individual first-place titles for the team.

Though it has fewer swimmers than the Benedictine women’s team, the U of C squad proved to be a formidable competitor. With the likes of veterans Testa, Ayoub, and third-year Emma Eriksson (not present at the meet), explained O’Connor, “It’s quality over quantity.”

The same motto applies to the men’s team, whose meager numbers would ordinarily damage its chances for dual-meet success. Though the team is small, all five of its competitors have shown that their biggest problem is not lack of membership, but rather a lack of competitive opportunities. However, the upcoming meet at Washington University in St. Louis will continue to resolve this issue.

O’Connor put the team’s size problems into perspective: “It’s obviously frustrating to not have a bigger team…but [Assistant Coach Chris Freeburg] and I are excited about the people we have now.” Given that its swimmers attend practice from 6 to 8 a.m. six days a week, she says, “[the team] is obviously willing to work.”

Whether the team wins or loses, ensuing practices will be based on the strengths and weaknesses displayed at the meet. The primary goal for the practice time between Benedictine and Washington University is to “work aggressively… so [the swimmers] are more comfortable in races,” says O’Connor. This should give the team some basis from which to prepare for the meets to follow.