Men’s and women’s swim teams optimistic after Knox Invite

By Sean Ahmed

After a 47-day layoff between meets, expectations were tempered for the men’s and women’s swimming teams. It can be hard to predict how a team will rebound when the past month and a half has consisted only of a long break, practices, and intrasquad competitions. Yet the men and women combined to make a splash at the Knox Invite this past weekend with seven individual first-place runs and a second-place finish overall. With the UAA championships less than a month away, last week’s great performance provides the team with a good foundation to build upon in the upcoming weeks.

Of the five swimmers that recorded first place finishes, four set pool records at Knox. Third-year Emma Eriksson set a record with her 100-meter backstroke time (1:03.28)–missing her own school record by one one-hundredth of a second–and second-year Emily Testa passed the previous mark with her 200-meter individual medley run (2:17.75). For the men, third-year Joe Nagy won the 100-meter breaststroke (1:01.73), and first-year Dan Timke won the 200-meter freestyle (1:51.01).

“Our swimmers’ performances were pretty much expected. They’ve been strong swimmers for us all year long,” coach Sheila O’Connor said. “This meet was important for us because it can be hard to get back to a high level after a long break. We spend the first half of the season getting in shape, and the second half of the season is preparation for UAA championships.”

Eriksson and Testa also finished first in the 200-meter freestyle and 100-meter freestyle, respectively. First-year Kathleen Meil won the grueling 500-meter freestyle. The men’s and women’s swim teams, which together only have 12 members and lack a diving squad, combined for 128 points, finishing behind only Lindenwood College in the six-team invite.

The second-place standing at Knox was a marked improvement over the team’s last invite at Washington University, which took place on November 23 and 24. The men finished last out of eight teams. The women finished sixth out of seven. Although the Knox Invite may be the easiest of the three competitions in the month of January, a good performance was just as important to the team as it would be at any other meet.

“Meets like this past weekend’s are also important in terms of boosting our confidence. They’re useful in preparing everyone for bigger meets like Grinnell and, ultimately, conference,” Testa said. “Given how hard people have been training this year, I’m not surprised by any of the fast swimming this past weekend. One person in particular who swam well was second-year Debora Ayoub, who had an impressive 100-meter butterfly, faster than any from last year’s season.”

Because of the small size of the teams, O’Connor needs all swimmers at the top of their games. At each meet, the swimmers regularly have to swim in the maximum number of events allowed per person–sometimes as many as eight–in order to fill all the available spots. The rosters have a roughly even mix of underclassmen and upperclassmen, resulting in a demand on the younger swimmers to perform and the more experienced swimmers to act as instructors. During this past week, swimmers have been regularly stopping in O’Connor’s office in order to watch the videotape from last weekend and discuss ways to improve for the meet next weekend.

On Friday and Saturday, the swimmers will be at the Grinnell Invite in Grinnell, Iowa. This weekend will provide unique challenges for the teams. “Grinnell is a two-day event, like a UAA competition with preliminary and final runs. It will be a good meet for us because we’ll swim against teams we haven’t seen yet, and it’s generally a very solid, fast meet. Also, our team will be spending two days on the bus and in hotels together, so it should serve as a good bonding experience for our swimmers,” O’Connor said.

Despite all the optimism and good signs that have appeared in the second half of the season, the swimming teams have an uphill battle. Without full-sized teams and a home pool, which they will not have until the Ratner Center opens, these next few weeks may prove to be an extreme challenge. “As always, our biggest obstacle is our team size. We are a hard-working team, but we will be competing against teams many times as large as us. We may have excellent individual swims, but we will have a hard time competing with teams with the maximum number of entrants in events we may not even be represented in,” Meil said.

Because U of C swimmers participate in more events than other school’s swimmers, staying healthy and not tiring in the last weeks before postseason competition will be key. “Many people on the team will be tapering very soon, so we’re really entering the home stretch. For now, it’s a matter of fine-tuning in the water and mentally preparing to step up against fast competition,” Testa said.