Men’s swimming lacks depth in fifth-place finish

By Sheridan Lardner

Standing up to a field dominated by many of the fastest teams in the nation, men’s swimming fought to its fifth-place finish at UAAs.

Boasting an undefeated record of 7–0 in dual meets, the Maroons had a disappointing end to an excellent season. In a breakout year for the program, Chicago’s repetition of fifth in the league was not the finale they had been expecting.

When the last swimmer stepped out of the water, the team’s accumulated 999 points could not trump 4th-place finisher Wash U’s 1,142 points. Holding on to its title, Emory placed first with a score of 1,704, followed closely by Carnegie Mellon (1,413) and NYU (1,315).

With five of its eight teams nationally ranked, the UAAs were this season’s true test of Chicago’s emerging program. Carried by a perfect mix of talent and experience, the squad had risen this year to be a serious contender on the national scene. The Maroons began 2007–2008 completely off the NCAA radar. Only a week before the UAAs, Chicago stood at tenth in the country.

Going into the championships, the team knew it would be in a tough position, with speedy teams ahead and serious potential for an upset behind. Carnegie and NYU claimed 15th and 16th respectively, while the fourth-ranked Eagles and fifth-ranked Bears promised to defend the gold and silver.

In the end what looked to be one of the Maroons biggest advantages proved to be its main problem. Depth had carried the team through its dual meets, but its roster would not prove deep enough when paired against the four conference titans. Unable to hold back the tide, the group found its stars incapable of matching its opponents, who consistently placed more swimmers in the top eight.

Leading the Chicago charge for points were third-year Alex Stabell and fourth-year Zach Ergish. Touching out Wash U second-year Dan Arteaga, Stabell snatched second in the 100-yard butterfly, earning an NCAA provisional qualification with a time of 51.14.

Continuing his butterfly dominance, Stabell swam the third leg of the 400-yard medley relay alongside first-years Sebastien Davis-VanGelder, Ed Wagner, and James Schlabach. Together, they stole the silver, beating out Emory, Carnegie and Wash U.

For his exceptional performance throughout the week, Stabell was one of the few awarded with All-UAA honors. He was only Maroon to receive the accolades, and it was a strong personal ending to the week.

Mimicking Stabell’s NCAA provisional qualification, Ergish achieved fifth in the 200-yard breaststroke with a quick 2:08.28. In one of the tightest races of the week, Ergish was beaten by a mere .06 seconds by Bears’ second-year Dima Galkin. Although first place won with some time to spare, the second through fifth-place finishers in the event were separated by .1 seconds.

Further adding to the scoreboard, Ergish placed eighth in the 200-yard individual medley, also manning the crew of the fourth-place 800-yard freestyle relay team. Only four other Chicago swimmers joined Stabell and Ergish in the top eight of any event.

Seizing fourth in the 100-yard backstroke, second-year Brian Young touched out Wash U fourth-year Tom Morris by a tiny spread of .02 seconds. Fourth-years Andrew Kent, Hiro Hayashi, and Jason Azares joined Young in their own events’ finals.

Kent pulled out a fifth-place finish in the 200-yard free, also aiding Ergish in the 800-yard freestyle relay victory. Capturing two eighth-place finishes were Hayashi and Azares in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly, respectively. These were all strong individual showings for the Maroons, but not enough to best their performance last year.

Neck and neck with the elite swimmers of its opposition, Chicago’s top guys managed to hold the meet together. Yet it was in the second and third tiers that the team was unable to match its contenders.

Placing guys in the finals in almost every event, the top four schools kept the Maroons from maintaining any serious lead. Although swimmers like Stabell made great gains, the team as a whole was edged out in most events.

While the Maroons are stuck in fifth in the UAAs, they are in a strong position for next year. Graduating swimmers such as Azares and Hayashi will be missed, but they have reliable replacements in the younger members of the team.

Looking to continue their season dominance will be third-years Stabell and Shane Carlson. Rookies like Schlabach, Davis-VanGelder, and Wagner promise to repeat their excellent first seasons and move the program further towards UAA gold.