Off to its best start in recent memory, the men's swim team continued its recent streak of success Saturday, defeating a strong Olivet College squad 126.5 to 109.5.
The Maroons were led by outstanding performances from fourth-year Northe Suanders, second-year James Viccaro, and first-years Hiro Hayashi and Jason Eiben. Saunders won two individual events, the 200- and 500-yard freestyles.
Hayashi won the 100-yard freestyle in 49.05 seconds and the 200 individual medley in 2:01.5. Viccaro and Eiben took home the 50-yard freestyle in 22.1 seconds and 100-yard backstroke in 57.51 seconds, respectively. The foursome of Saunders, Viccaro, second-year Pat Seastead, and first-year Jason Azares also set a pool record while winning the 200 I.M. medley in 1:39.55.
Chicago, now at 6-0, has undergone a drastic transformation over the past year and is poised to make waves in the world of Division III swimming over the next month and a half. The team's success is due in part to an infusion of new talent, thanks to an extremely strong freshman class and a number of transfers.
From the beginning of the season, there has been a different feeling about the Maroons.
"The team is radically changed from last year's squad," said head coach George Villarreal. "Once we got the ball rolling with early-season wins, everyone continued to get more and more confident. There's an attitude that this is a special year, a historic year in which we may see the best team in recent memory."
That confidence makes any team dangerous, but may be of special benefit to the Maroons. Competing in one of the top swimming conferences in Division III, the team finished last in the 2004 UAA Championships. That poor showing may serve to distract league opponents from the team's success this season. Chicago is in the unique position of swimming with the swagger of a favorite without being considered a squad to worry about by opposing coaches.
In upcoming weeks, the Maroons will be tested in dual matches with nationally ranked opponents such as Carthage, Wheaton, and DePauw. These should provide a good litmus test for Chicago before the league championship beginning February 10.
"We've taken giant leaps all year long, and we are hoping to challenge for fourth place. I think that fourth place will be a shoot-out between two to four teams, and I think we have as good a chance as any to rise above the fray," Villarreal said.
In a league that produced three of the top ten teams in the country last winter, this is heady talk, indicative of the bright times the team is experiencing. They are focusing on making the future just as bright.
"Our challenge is to stay motivated, stay confident, to overcome injuries and prevent any new ones, and to dive into each race without being intimidated, ready to swim fast," said Villarreal. "These are uncharted waters for the men's swim team. The only question is how far they can go."
While a number of key swimmers took the next step, women's swimming took a step back.
The Maroons suffered a tough 166-64 loss against Olivet College in home waters Saturday, falling to 2-3-1 on the season. The team competed without several members, as the team's third-years attended the University's Taking the Next Step program.
Fourth-year Erin Lyons was the only individual winner for Chicago, taking home the 1000-yard freestyle in 11:22.29. First-year Cat Vanier also turned in several notable performances, scoring personal bests of 26.9 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle and 1:05.29 in the 100-yard butterfly.
Midway through the season, the Maroons are looking to stay competitive and improve overall performance as they gear up for the league championships February 10. The team is led by fourth-year tri-captains Lyons, Emily Testa, and Debora Ayoub.
"We look at every meet leading up to the UAA championships as an opportunity to experiment with our race plan, so that we are completely ready to turn in a well planned race at the conference meet," head coach Sheila O'Connor said.
According to O'Connor, the team needs to work on approaching swimming as a training sport, one that requires the individuals to constantly push themselves in practice to improve.
"Our biggest challenge from this point on is to stay tough in training for three more weeks and focus on the details," she said.
The team will participate in the Chicago Invitational on January 15 and 16, and will face Carthage on the road on January 22 before the UAA championship meet.