Focused on UAAs, men take on individual tests from powerhouses Carthage, Olivet: Swimmers pointed in right direction after Chicago Invite

By Joe Katz

With mitigating circumstances abounding on all sides of the pool deck, it may be hard to draw conclusions from the performance of men’s swimming as a team in its last home appearance until mid-February. But the efforts and improvements of a few Maroons were enough to stand on their own.

Those improvements were key to the host Maroons, who scored 1,047.5 points over three sessions Friday and Saturday to finish second of eight at the Chicago Invite. First-year Shane Carlson set yet another school record with a 4:42.15 mark in the 500-yard freestyle while third-year James Viccaro finished in a dead heat with Olivet second-year Mitch Powers to tie in the 50-yard freestyle (22.24) to help lead the team.

For the second weekend in a row, Chicago finished well behind Olivet (1,325.5), largely because of the Comets’ numbers advantage in diving. The 15th-ranked Michigan squad garnered 234 points of their 278-point margin over the Maroons in the one-meter and three-meter diving events. While Chicago finished well ahead of regional powerhouse Carthage (875), the Redmen did not participate Friday and thus lost opportunities to score. Considering these factors, it’s hard to quantify just what the team standing means heading towards the postseason.

“I think it’s good enough to say that we swam really well and got second in our invitational. I think we can leave it at that,” head coach George Villarreal said.

“At this point, it’s an internal focus,” Viccaro said. “How are people swimming? Are they where they should be? Are the times where they should be? Are individual people being consistent with times and dropping as they should be going into UAAs?”

Carlson was chief among the individual stars of the day. In addition to his history-making effort in the 500-yard free, he hit the wall in 2:13.31 for third place in the 200-yard breaststroke and came home in 4:17.06 to finish fourth in the 400-yard I.M. Entering the meet, coaches had anticipated him breaking his own program mark in the 400-yard I.M., a 4:15.92 effort at the November 12 Maroon Invitational.

“He was in a different position than the last time he swam a fast race,” Villarreal said. “ was still the third-fastest time in program history, and he has the fastest.”

The stalwart work of Carlson was backed up by a number of his teammates. While Viccaro fell short of his times from last week, his 49.47-second mark in the 100-yard freestyle was good for sixth place. Second-year Zach Ergish busted through for second-place standing in the 200-yard I.M. (2:01.77) and sixth in the 400-yard I.M. (4:23.26).

Classmate Andrew Kent had a second-place finish of his own in the 200-yard free, hitting the wall in 1:47.76, and he grabbed sixth in the 500-yard free (4:57.85). The team also received an unexpected boost from third-year Bucky Banks, who earned a spot on the 100-yard relay A squad with his third-place showing (49.13) in the 100-yard free.

In a strong field, most events were tightly contested. Viccaro’s tie in the 50-yard free wasn’t the only near-miss of the weekend. Kent came home just .51 seconds behind Carthage first-year Jared Hallam in the 200-yard freestyle. Tight finishes were even more prevalent in the relay events, where the Maroons finished less than a second behind the winners in the 200-, 400- and 800-yard freestyle relays.

“It’s preferable that we’re getting out-touched now, during the season, so they can remember that and not repeat that again,” Villarreal said. “So much depends on our anchor leg. We may have been forcing some people to be anchors that can’t necessarily handle it as well as others.”

“Whether you finish with a half stroke or a full stroke makes all the difference,” Viccaro said. “You have to have everything absolutely perfect, down to hundreths of a second.”

As expected, Chicago units finished in the top three in all five relays. The Invite featured a full slate, matching the offerings at the league championship meet in February and giving the team a chance to gain experience in the events against tough competitions.

“We needed the challenge of facing Carthage, a really strong relay team, so that they can be ready for that level of competition at UAAs. That’s something they can use as motivation for next time,” Villarreal said. “They don’t want to get beat again, and they were not very happy.”

Chicago was held back by lingering injuries and illnesses afflicting critical members of the team. Third-year Pat Seastedt was held to duty in the 200- and 400-yard medley relays and the 100-yard breaststroke, and he will continue to swim a limited schedule while he recovers from mononucleosis. Second-year Jason Azares only participated in the 50-yard free (17/24.71), swimming it as a butterfly event as he continues to recuperate from a shoulder injury.

Any contributions the pair might be able to provide will be much appreciated in their upcoming competitions. The Maroons hit the road for the Wheaton Triangular Saturday, where they will face two top schools, competing against the host Thunder and in their second brawl with Carthage in as many weeks.

“I’d rather have our guys swim tough guys all the time, and when they beat people have a shot of confidence for that,” Villarreal said. “I have a feeling we’re going to get in there and get handled, so we’re going to alter our lineup slightly so we get people experimenting in another event, so we can see if that’s an event lineup that might work better at UAAs.”