Last chance ahead for Carlson, men’s swimmers

By Tim Murphy

With a season of milestones almost over, men’s swimming is hoping to maintain its momentum against the region’s best.

After succesfully matching last season’s sixth-place finish at the UAA Championships at Emory, the Maroons will look to continue their run Friday and Saturday as they host the last-chance Midwest Invitational. Facing many of the region’s top swimmers, the up-and-coming Maroons hope to both gain experience and add some national qualifications.

“The team continues to be a young team,” head coach George Villarreal said. “The underclassmen score a majority of the points. They’re really the soul of the team and they’re going to be at it for years. This is a chance for them to experience a fast meet without the pressure of the UAAs.”

Of the young swimmers who have led to a rejuvenation of the program in recent years, none has had as much success early in his career as first-year Shane Carlson. The Houston native won his first two collegiate races and hasn’t looked back since. The end result so far for Carlson has been a historic season. Last weekend at the league meet, he lowered his own marks in the 1,650- and 500-yard freestyle events and the 200-yard I.M. Carlson had already shown his penchant for breaking records a few weeks back when he cut 13 seconds off of the existing school record in the 1,000 freestyle at the January 21 Wheaton Triangular.

“This season has been great,” said Carlson, who has already qualified for nationals in the 1,650 free. “I’ve been dropping time the whole year. It’s been really encouraging working with them . was a wonderful feeling. It encouraged me to swim faster and break even more records.”

Since even before the first day of practice this fall, head coach George Villareal knew he might have something special in the newcomer.

“Shane had swum some times last summer with his club team that were near NCAA standards, so we knew we’d have a great shot,” Villarreal said.

Although Carlson has begun to realize the great expectations that the coaching staff had when they recruited him, he entered the year with a modest goal.

“I just wanted to be a competitive varsity swimmer,” Carlson said. “I just like to win my races.“

Carlson’s performances throughout the winter were remarkable considering swimming’s common practice of athletes tapering their training in the season’s latter half, sacrificing regular-season time in order to be better prepared for the postseason meets. Despite a training-regimen that encourages slower times in the months leading up to the postseason meets, Carlson managed to break his own records several times over the course of the year.

“He did very well this season; in many instances he was faster in-season than we expected,” Villarreal said. “That shows that he has a lot of guts.”

While Carlson has exceeded his own expectations this season, with three more years in the Maroon-and-black, his future is even brighter.

“He works extremely hard and he’s also physically talented and has matured physically and gotten stronger,” Villarreal said. “That can only be an advantage. He can go very far. He’s a physically talented individual, and with more hard work he can go a long way.”

With nationals looming on the horizon, Carlson will look to mix things up this weekend. Having already qualified for his top event, the mile, this meet is an opportunity for this first-year to broaden his swimming repertoire. Carlson plans to scrap his usual freestyle races and allow the coaches to evaluate his abilities in the other events.

“I want to swim the 200-yard individual medley, the 200 breaststroke, and drop my times in all of my events and maybe get another NCAA B-cut,” Carlson said. “I also hope another teammate can get another B-cut with me.”

“He’s not looking to update his time, just looking to swim different events,” Villarreal said. “He has a chance to try two, three other events, just to see what he can do. sitting pretty well for the 1,650 for nationals.”

In addition to Carlson, the Maroons expect big performances from a number of other swimmers. First-years Alex Stabell (100-yard butterfly) and Zach Ergish (200 I.M.), second-year Jason Azares (200 butterfly), and third-year Pat Seastedt (100 breatstroke) all have a shot at reaching national qualifying standards. The meet will also provide a final opportunity for some swimmers who did not compete at UAAs to get one more race in. With most swimmers heading into their last meet, the Maroons are looking for the year to end on a productive note, even without meeting national standards.

“It gives everyone a chance to finish their seasons in a championship setting,” Villareal said.

While most of the Maroons will be hanging up their goggles after this weekend, Carlson will have one final chance at the record books March 16 to 18 in Minneapolis. It will be his first, but certainly not last, chance to show what he can do against the top swimmers in the nation.