Swimming grows into regional power

By Sean Ahmed

A virtually unknown program without an on-campus pool as recently as two years ago, men’s and women’s swimming has come a long way to gain recognition as a “regional power,” as Rose-Hulman’s website described the Maroons last weekend. The teams have always put a lot of effort into their 6 a.m. practices and had a handful of talented swimmers. Yet now, with the numbers to compete and five wins in six meets, Chicago swimming is making a name for itself.

“Over the last few meets, the team has gotten a taste of competition and some confidence,” said fourth-year Dennis Connolly of the men’s team, which added 17 swimmers this year. “Now we will have to really keep our momentum going and take on some of these tougher teams that in the past we couldn’t compete with.”

The women have added eight swimmers themselves, bringing them considerably closer in size to the average competition. “It’s a young team, and I think we’ll continue to see a lot of time drops as we approach the meet-intensive time of the season,” fourth-year Emily Testa said.

Even this early in the season, both teams have noticeably improved since last year. The men—buoyed by talented underclassmen swimmers in addition to fourth-year All-American Northe Saunders—have steamrolled the competition so far by a 432-187 margin. The breaststrokers and distance events have been particularly strong for Chicago, and second-year James Viccaro has solidified the sprint team, winning all three of his 50-yard freestyles in his first season swimming since high school.

Last weekend against Rose-Hulman and Monmouth, men’s swimming (3-0) excelled in the home stretch, out-touching guys by tenths of a second. Although those couple-point swings didn’t matter much in the two blowouts, that depth will be extremely important later in the season.

“There are so many guys on the team now that there are very few areas where we are weak; it’s more of a matter of settling into a practice and meet routine,” Saunders said. “Our team is going to continue to get stronger and faster as the season progresses. I know many of the guys are excited for a meet where we will face a true challenge.”

The women (2-1) rebounded from their disappointing loss in the home opener—a 112-118 squeaker against Illinois Tech—to easily sweep Rose-Hulman and Monmouth. Their experienced core of fourth-years Debora Ayoub, Erin Lyons, Rachel Neumayer, and Emily Testa has excelled early in the shorter- and middle-length races. Second-year Katherine Yang convincingly won in the longer races, grabbing the top spot twice in the 500-yard free and once in the 1,000-yard free.

Although they still expect to be slightly short-handed against more established programs, early signs have been encouraging. “Our first years have made excellent progress over these first few weeks of the quarter, and we anticipate being pretty strong all-around, especially with the new addition of our divers,” Lyons said.

Men’s and women’s swimming head to Illinois Wesleyan Saturday, perhaps presenting the teams with their last warm-up meet of the year. They return home the following Saturday to host the Maroon Invitational.