For the swimmer with the slowest split time at the halfway point of the 100-yard freestyle, Northe Saunders certainly made up for lost time.
Saunders, a third-year on the men's swim team, came back to win by a significant margin at the University Athletic Association Championship meet in Atlanta, Georgia this past weekend. His time of 45.92 seconds was not only a national qualifying mark, but it also set the record for fastest time in the history of the UAA. Saunders also qualified to compete in the Division III national championship meet in the 200-yard freestyle. His time of 1:41.42 earned him a second place finish in the race.
Both Saunders and George Villarreal, head coach of the men's team, were quick to point out that all the members of the men's team had a successful weekend.
"Every guy had a best time," Villarreal said, adding that some of the times "showed precipitous drops."
Saunders praised the performance of second-year Ted Matson who continues to improve his times drastically even though this is only his first year on the team.
Villarreal pointed out that the team will not lose anyone to graduation and that they are focused on building the core of the team. Despite a last place finish in a field of eight teams, Villarreal says that seeing the team develop and improve is more important to him than a final rank. He predicts that the Maroons will improve rapidly as they continue to compete in the UAA, which is known to be one of the toughest swimming conferences in Division III.
The women's team also competed and, like the men, placed last of eight teams. Host Emory University and Washington University took first and second places, respectively, in both the men's and women's competitions. Third- year Emily Testa took ninth place in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 55.44 seconds. Both Chicago teams will finish their seasons at the Midwest Invite in Wheaton, Illinois this Friday and Saturday.
Saunders was the only member of either team to qualify for the national competition. He will have almost a month-long break from formal competition between the Midwest Invite and Nationals, which will take place in St. Peters, Missouri on March 18-20. Neither the time lapse nor having to train alone according to NCAA rules will impede Saunders's preparation.
Villarreal said he is not worried that Saunders will lose his focus, calling the All-UAA swimmer "intrinsically motivated." He vowed to work on very specific aspects of Saunders's stroke and tailor workouts to his particular needs.
"It will be tough to get back into training hard again," Saunders admitted. But the prospect of making a strong showing at Nationals keeps him going.
One of the most interesting stories of the weekend was how Saunders came to break the record in the 100-yard race. He came within .04 seconds of the record at the conference championship his first year at Chicago. In the morning preliminaries this year, a swimmer from another school broke the UAA mark, and Saunders broke it again to take the title in the afternoon.
Saunders surprised himself with his performance, especially after a slower start in the first 50 yards of the race. His coach and his teammates, however, were not surprised.
"We all knew he was a racer," Villarreal said. "He has the desire to win."