Men’s and women’s swimming at a glance

Check out our preview of both swimming squads before the season kicks off Saturday.

By Jessica Sheft-Ason

The recap: The 2007–2008 campaign was decidedly a breakout year for men’s swimming. Coming out of nowhere last winter, the team powered its way to an undefeated record in dual meets and top-10 rankings in the national polls. The squad didn’t fare as well as it had hoped at the UAA meet, though, as it repeated its result from 2007 with a fifth place finish.

Women’s swimming, meanwhile, expanded its talent and improved in conference rankings. A sixth place finish in 2006 gave way to a fifth place finish in 2007, improving the school’s best conference finish for the second straight year.

Second-year Ellie Elgamal proved to be indispensable, breaking a school record at each of Chicago’s regular season competitions. Along with the best conference finish in school history, the NCAA Championship qualifier led the Maroons to a 6–3 dual meet record and victories at both of the squad’s home invitationals last season.

Who to watch for: After pacing their squad in last year’s campaign, fourth-year captains Alex Stabell and Shane Carlson look to repeat their role as team leaders in the pool. The pair consistently took home the gold in dual meets, and Stabell narrowly missed the NCAA cut last March for the second year in a row.

“This year is going to be their year,” head coach Jason Weber said, “if they can stay healthy, to qualify for NCAA and to lead this team into the top of our conference.”

Returning from an All-American performance at NCAAs last year, second-year Ellie Elgamal is a perennial threat for Chicago but will be joined by rookies looking to continue her ground-breaking trends.

Even among a host of talented women’s recruits, first-year Tara Levens has already begun to turn heads. The newcomer competes in both backstroke and butterfly and, according to some on the team, has already shown record-setting potential.

Strengths: An oversized recruiting class will provide a wealth of young talent for both the men’s and women’s squads as the Maroons make a run for another school-best season in 2008.

Last year, depth buoyed the men’s squad, with multiple swimmers frequently winning across a wide spectrum of events. This season looks no different, as Weber has brought in a large recruiting class to add to what was already his squad’s biggest asset.

“We lost a big class last year, but we’ve got a big class coming in,” Weber said. “So they should fill those big shoes pretty well.”

On the women’s side, Weber noted that as many as 10 swimmers could be in contention for NCAA bids when February rolls around.

“This is the first year that we will have a full women’s team,” Weber added, “and practically everyone on the team has the ability to score at our conference championships.”

Weaknesses: While the team is poised to make a big splash this season with the amount of new talent, Chicago still faces significant hurdles.

On any team where freshmen make up a sizeable portion of the roster, experience is likely to play a role in performance as rookies adjust to the level of college competition and the stress of balancing academics and athletics.

“We’re really young,” Weber said. “I’m not sure how some of our freshmen are going to respond to our racing situations, our championship meet situations.”

The Maroons have also toughened their schedule significantly, and will face D-I and D-II squads in dual meets. Weber also worries about his depth in sprint disciplines.

“On the girls’ side, we really don’t have anyone who can do the 50 to 100 freestyle,” Weber said. “We just aren’t very deep or very strong in the really short fast stuff.”