Records keep falling for young men’s swimmers

By Joe Katz

It was a league rivalry weekend for the opposition, and men’s swimming was just caught in the crossfire. At the very least, it looks like first-year Shane Carlson has learned to laugh while the bullets fly over his head.

The overall meet scores weren’t uplifting, as the Maroons (5–3–1 in dual meet action) couldn’t keep pace with sixth-ranked Carthage (8–1) and eighth-ranked Wheaton (2–2). But the 145-59 defeat by the Redmen and a 138-66 fall against the host Thunder Saturday was cushioned by yet another pair of wins by the freshman sensation. Carlson has now won 11 individual events in his short collegiate career.

But it was more than just the wins; it was how he won. Carlson hit the wall for a winning 4:43.49 mark in the 500-yard freestyle, almost eight full seconds ahead of Carthage first-year Bryan Pelka (4:51.20) in second. He built a similarly large gap in the 1,000-yard free, recording a 9:44.43 time that was almost 10 full seconds better than his closest competitor, Redmen fourth-year Andy Steenrod, and slashed an astonishing 13 seconds off of Chicago’s previous school record in the event.

“Carthage made the pretty bold prediction that they were going to run the table in ” head coach George Villarreal said. “As far as I can recall, that would have been a varsity record for all three of the teams or close to it. He was very consistent. It wasn’t a fluke.”

The fields he was faced with were nothing to sneeze at, either. With College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin contenders Wheaton and Carthage battling for bragging rights, both squads had their A-lineups in the water. Four different swimmers broke 10 minutes in the 1,000-yard free, likely one of the fastest heats in Division III so far this season. That was true all down the event lineup, limiting Chicago’s ability to break in the top spots.

“It’s like there’s a revolution going on around you, and you’re one of the houses caught in street-to-street fighting,” Villarreal said.

Knowing the situation entering the meet, coaches hoped to take the opportunity to test some possible event combinations in advance of UAAs. While this did not happen as much as they expected, some adjustments to the relay squads from last week’s competition were forced by individual event limitations. In the 400-yard freestyle relay, second-year Zach Ergish replaced classmate Hiro Hayashi on the third leg while third-year James Viccaro and second-year Andrew Kent traded positions, with Kent taking over the crucial anchor spot. The squad finished fourth in 3:17.65, more than two seconds slower than it recorded at the Chicago Invite, with Ergish making up most of the difference. The 400-yard medley squad finished close to two seconds slower (fifth place, 3:42.41) than it had the week before, with fourth-year Dan Timke filling in for Viccaro at anchor. Considering the end-of-regular season fatigue, these switches seemed to be successful.

“They all had good, strong splits,” Villarreal said. “It’s a little bit of an interesting situation trying to figure out which guys are going into the A-final in the 400-yard freestyle at UAAs, when we have seven or eight guys who can hold down those spots.”

Most Maroons swimmers were in their comfort zones in the individual races, with top finishers including Viccaro’s fourth-place finish (22.34) in the 50-yard free, Kent recording fourth standing with a 2:03.71 mark in the 200-yard backstroke, Hayashi wrapping up a sixth-place finish in the 100-yard free (49.62), and third-year Bucky Banks touching for fourth in the 100-yard free (49.16).

“We’re coming off a period where a lot of guys were suffering from mono or other illnesses or were injured, and we’re in the depths of midterms. We had some good swims, but some guys were tired,” Villarreal said. “It’s always nice to have a season’s best performance, but it’s not necessarily our expectation.”

While no Maroons have yet met NCAA provisional qualifying standards, several are expected to with tapers beginning in the next few weeks and good fields coming up in mid-February meets. Among those who should be close are Viccaro, third-year Pat Seastedt, who has been limited by mono, first-year Alex Stabell, second-year Jason Azares as he completes his comeback from a shoulder injury, and Carlson. Stabell came very close to meeting the 16:27.28 standard in the 1,650-yard free at the Maroon Invite November 12 (16:28.89) and could have reasonably expected to break through if the event had been run at Wheaton.

“In-season times don’t really make a lot of sense. Everyone usually makes the cut at conference meets,” Villarreal said. “I don’t want to jinx anything, but I don’t think there’s much we would have to do. The hay is in the barn, he’s done the work. If he stays healthy, I’d have to try to mess it up. But don’t put it past me.”

The Thunder earned a narrow 103.5–100.5 win over Carthage to justify their high ranking. College swimming rankings are notoriously unreliable, as a number of prominent programs do not participate in the polling.

Just one more test remains for Chicago before UAAs February 9-11, but it’s not an easy one. The Maroons will face 18th-ranked DePauw at Greencastle. The squad may take advantage of their last opportunity to mix things up, recording times in some tertiary events for a number of swimmers. However, the main goal of the weekend will be to get an indication of everyone’s conditioning.

“I don’t think right now the important thing is to win meets,” Villarreal said. “I want them to swim tough races tired so they can get an idea of what it’s going to feel like on third day of UAAs, having swum four sessions before that.”