Women’s swimming earns best UAA finish in 12 years

By Chris Boots

Although their sixth-place finish may not bring glory and a UAA championship banner to deck the rafters of Myers-McLoraine, women’s swimming’s showing at the UAA meet marks the team’s best finish in over a decade, heralding the possibility of even greater things to come.

Lining up on the block against UAA rivals at Case Western’s Veale Natatorium, the Maroons relied on a standout performance from first-year Cassie O’Neill along with strong relays and individual scoring across the board to sink Brandeis and Case. While Chicago put up 704.5 points, top-ranked Emory swept away the competition with 1,724, and NYU followed suit with 1,229.

“The women actually exceeded my expectations at UAAs,” head coach Jason Weber said. “I had expected them to get seventh overall, but they ended up sixth, their best UAA finish in 12 years.”

With the depth of perennial powerhouses Emory, Wash U, and NYU squeezing Chicago swimmers out of most individual championship rounds, the Maroons garnered many of their points by qualifying swimmers for the consolation and bonus rounds.

Nine swimmers and three divers combined for 336.6 individual points for Chicago, a remarkably universal effort that saw nearly every member of the roster contribute.

On the diving board, a small field allowed each Maroon diver to pick up points in the one-meter event, with seasoned fourth-year Ashley Bourne leading the way to take ninth and an accompanying 20 points. Bourne also earned 10th in the three-meter, where third-year Monica Buckley took 12th.

Chicago saw its highest-scoring individual event in the 100 back, where first-years Alicia Bushman and Kathie Ang, and third-year Blake Langdon took 9th, 12th, and 21st to net 39 points for the Maroons.

“I knew that practically everyone on the team would need to score if we were to get sixth place or higher,” said Weber. “I think only a few swimmers didn’t score, and we were still able to pull it out.”

Managing to break into the final round for each of her individual events, O’Neill epitomized the remarkable potential of this young team as she contributed to a whopping 231.5 of the South Sider’s 704.5 points. O’Neill dropped three seconds off her seed time in the 200 breaststroke (2:25.71) to claim second place, a new school record, and a provisional NCAA championship qualifying time.

Opening her individual efforts at the meet by taking sixth in the 200 individual medley (2:14.48), O’Neill finished just half a second behind Emory third-year Ellen Flader to tie with Carnegie third-year Alex Kinzler for second in the 100 breaststroke (1:07.53), posting yet another NCAA provisional qualifying time.

As if her national-caliber individual performances were not enough, O’Neill swam on four point-scoring relays, helping the Maroons grab fifth in the 400 medley and sixth in the 200 medley.

“I would say the highlight for the team was Cassie O’Neill’s performance,” Weber said. “She has a very good chance at qualifying for NCAAs and could be the first female Chicago swimmer to compete at NCAAs in over a decade.”

Her provisional qualification means that after the automatically qualifying “A” times are filled at nationals, provisional “B” times such as O’Neill’s will make up the remainder of slots. With weeks left in the season for more qualifications, O’Neill’s national fate remains undecided.

Knowing the crowded field would make it difficult to send individual swimmers into the high-scoring final rounds, the Maroons focused their energy on the valuable relay portion of the tournament, and these efforts paid off as the South Siders found more than half their points in the team competitions.

Both the 800 freestyle squad of Ang, first-year Jeannette Daly, and second-years Rachel Zarnke and Sarah Laws, and the 400 medley team of Laws, Zarnke, O’Neill, and Bushman surged to take fifth (8:18.10; 4:08.67), while the 200 medley and the 200 and 400 freestyle relays claimed sixth, sixth, and eighth, respectively.

Last weekend’s performance marks the second straight season of upward movement in the UAA rankings for this young team, whose future can be nothing but bright with only two point-scoring fourth-years departing. Expect to see more of this squad, whose rise out of the UAA basement into the upper echelons will likely continue.

“In the last three years this women’s team has gone from eighth to sixth at UAA’s,” Weber said, “and I fully expect the team to be at least fifth next year. We should have a great recruiting class coming in and expect to have some more NCAA–caliber swimmers that will be able to compete with Emory, Wash U, and NYU.”

“Jason did recruit a strong first-year squad,” O’Neill said. “And next year’s squad is looking even stronger. I think the UAA will see a lot more from the U of C in the near future.”