Carlson, men swim into the record books in Atlanta: Touching the wall, swimmers set marks at UAA meet

By Joe Katz

Men’s swimming took advantage of their last major opportunity of the year to leave a lasting impression on the record books. They didn’t do too badly in the standings, either.

With personal records falling left and right to make almost 20 new entries in the program’s top-10 all-time performance lists, the Maroons finished sixth overall at the UAA Championships, held Thursday through Saturday in Atlanta. First-year Shane Carlson made his league-meet debut memorable with a school-record 16:13.40 mark in the 1,650-yard freestyle, which met the national meet provisional qualifying standard and earned him fifth place in the event.

While the team finished in the bottom half of the league for the 18th year running, it matched last season’s finish and did so with room to spare. Chicago had 313.5 total points, as compared to 202.5 for seventh-place Rochester. In 2005, the Maroons finished just 30 points ahead of Case. The team also finished just 100 points out of fourth, with 24th-ranked Carnegie Mellon garnering 412 and 16th-ranked Case getting 403, a very respectable showing in what proved to be a deep meet even for the notoriously challenging UAA. Emory, which was the national runner-up last year and does not participate in the opt-in rankings, blew away the competition with 1,166.5 points.

“There were times that people got last year that didn’t get anywhere near the top 16 this year. That indicates a strong freshman class for all the schools,” head coach George Villarreal said. “We were glad that we were able to maintain what we started last year. That’s where we want to be, maintaining and getting better every year. I do think this was one of the best meets in years.”

“In some respects it could be seen as disappointing to finish the same as last year,” second-year Zach Ergish said. “But if we look at how we swam, there is a major difference.”

To make some noise in a league that had six teams score at last year’s NCAA meet, the Maroons had to swim better than they ever had before. Carlson certainly accomplished that, breaking varsity records in all three of his individual events. He preceded his blitzkrieg 1,650-yard free with a 4:41.05 mark in the 500-yard free that was good for seventh place and a ninth-place, 4:11.89 400-yard I.M. performance.

“We had in mind that he was going to get a provisional time in the 500-yard freestyle. Nevertheless, it was still the best time for him, so we can’t be that upset with him,” Villarreal said. “It took a while for a few people on the team to get into the meet. He was one of the ones who took a while to get into it.”

“Shane was phenomenal. He knew what he could do, and he went out thereand did it,” said Ergish, who pushed Carlson with the second-fastest 400-yard I.M. in Chicago history (4:12.43/10th) and recorded second all-time (200-yard I.M., 1:59.71/13th) and third all-time (200-yard breaststroke, 2:11.12/6th) marks of his own.

Carlson and Ergish had some company in rewriting the record books. First-year Alex Stabell touched the wall in 53.04 to record the second-fastest 100-yard butterfly in team history and finish 11th in the event. Third-year James Viccaro swam the fourth-fastest 100-yard freestyle time, second-year Andrew Kent swam the third-fastest 200-yard freestyle and fifth-fastest 100-yard free marks, fourth-year Ram Krishnan swam the fourth-fastest 200-yard backstroke, and second-year Chris Whaley swam the fifth-fastest 200-yard butterfly.

While second-year Gabe Bugajski broke into the top 10 in 200-yard butterfly, 100-yard butterfly, and 50-yard free, he was topped by first-year Charles Byrd, who swam the third-fastest times in program history in the 1,650 yard free (16:42.22/14th) and the 500-yard free (4:45.52/11th) and the fourth-fastest 200-yard free (1:45.66/13th). Byrd joined Carlson and Ergish as the only Maroons to score in every individual race they competed in.

“We were pleasantly surprised with Charles,” Villarreal said, “and we can’t be happier for anybody than we are for Zach. The sky’s the limit for him. He’ll come back next year even stronger.”

Though he didn’t quite make the all-time lists, third-year Pat Seastedt still had some reason to celebrate. Hampered for much of the season by mono, Seastedt was one of the major individual contributors on the weekend with a fourth-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke (59.65) and a seventh-place showing in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:16.30).

In relay events, the 800-yard free team (Carlson, Byrd, Ergish, and Kent in the anchor leg) gave it their all with a Chicago-record 7:03.62 mark but was pushed into fifth place against a powerful field. That would prove the best of any of the squads, as the 200- and 400-yard free and 200- and 400-yard medleys all finished sixth.

“The UAA just really proved again how strong and deep it is. Case was really strong this year, they deserve a lot of credit for having a really big meet,” Villarreal said. “Everyone was physically prepared to swim fast. Some of the younger guys may not have gotten their heads into this meet the way they needed to be. They know it’s a three-day meet, and they’re looking to hold onto something. We need to come up with a strategy to make them come out hungry. It’s the hardest thing in the world to come out hungry for a three-day meet. It’s a big meet, there’s a lot of pressure, and it took them a while to get into it.”

The team’s susceptibility to saving energy in the early races might have been exacerbated by the lack of experience as a group. This was the first road trip conference meet for the first- and second-years, who provided the bulk of the scoring for the Maroons.

“This gives them an idea of what they have to do for next year. We may have erred a little bit in thinking it wouldn’t be as deep as it was, and we need to tell them this year was not anomalous, these are the times you need to score,” Villarreal said.

“This weekend I saw that this team has a lot of talent and so much potential. With hard work and dedication, a higher place may be possible ,” Ergish said.

The league meet spelled the end of the line for most of the team. From here on in, the coaching staff will be focused on the individuals who will be competing at Nationals March 16 to 18. While no one is yet guaranteed a spot, Carlson’s time would have been good enough to get there last year.

Carlson, along with Ergish, Stabell, and several others, will compete again this weekend as Chicago hosts the last-chance Midwest Invitational Friday and Saturday. Carlson may attempt to better his chances at the NCAAs by going for qualifying marks in the 500-yard free and 400-yard I.M. Ergish would likely join him in the latter event, where he fell less than two seconds shy of the standard at UAAs, while Stabell will probably attempt to make it through in either the 50-yard free or the 100-yard butterfly.