After dropping its first decision of the year last week in a last-minute home meet against then-6th-ranked Wheaton, 15th-ranked men's swimming quickly returned to top mid-season form last Saturday.
Stocked with young talent and hungry to get back on track, the Maroons defeated 16th-ranked DePauw 126-110 at Myers-McLoraine Pool. The meet was the team's last before hosting UAA championships on February 10-12.
Records fell left and right to the men, as many swam their best runs this year. Fourth-year Northe Saunders broke his own 200-yard freestyle pool record with a time of 1:43.78, his best time anywhere this season. In addition, the 200-yard freestyle relay consisting of first-years Andrew Kent and Hiro Hayashi, second-year James Viccaro, and third-year Peter Stavros set new pool and team records with a time of 1:28.42.
After this weekend's victory, the Maroons are brimming with confidence entering conference championships. "I think that our team is young enough and hungry enough not to be overawed by anyone," men's head coach George Villareal said. "Considering our victories this season over Wash U and Carthage, both among the top teams in the nation, as well as a victory over DePauw, who beat Wash U earlier, I think we can make an impression."
Chicago now enters its taper period before UAAs, adjusting their routines to maximize late-season improvement. Throughout the season the swimmers overload their workouts to increase endurance. However, as the season ends they rest more to work on speed instead of endurance. The result of this taper is that each swimmer's body is better rested and ready to exert more power and speed when it counts.
Chicago has competed without much trouble against opponents this season, never giving up a large deficit. The team's only loss came in an abridged, snowed-out meet against perennial power Wheaton, a competition decided by a mere seven points.
The Maroons will be further bolstered by the advantage of hosting the UAAs this year. "Hosting UAAs is big for us," Villarreal said. "Because the swimmers train in this pool daily, they know the layout of the pool. They are comfortable on our walls, with our lighting scheme, our deck spaces, and our locker rooms. In this sense, this is a home-field advantage."
While the men have been extremely successful this year, they stand to face their toughest competition two weekends from now. The Maroons are currently the lowest of the UAA's astounding five ranked teams, which also includes Emory (1st), NYU (6th), Wash U (10th), and Case Western (14th).
The men, while underdogs on paper, hope to use their pure depth to power past some very top-heavy conference foes. Not having to make road adjustments could make a big difference. As Villarreal said in his February 16 online column last year, the team is intent on making this year's motto "This is OUR house."
"Other swimmers may come in never having seen anything as good as our pool in a while, and may spend a while getting accustomed to the place," Villarreal added. "And our swimmers have swam fast here all season. They will be comfortable in familiar surroundings, having slept in their own beds. They will have classmates, other U of C athletes, and parents cheering for them, and they will see lots of maroon."
Chicago now has 10 days to rest, train, and prepare. Although an improvement from last year's eighth place standing would be a step up, nobody on the team is looking to stop there, particularly with this year's big wins to build upon. "I've always said that I would be very happy with any place from fifth to seventh, since that would be an improvement since last year, but we can do even better," Villarreal said. "The keys for success will be the swimmers' belief that they are each ready for the meet, physically, emotionally and mentally. Everything will be coming together in the next 10 days for that goal."
The Maroons lost its meet against DePauw on Saturday 151-81. The loss dropped the team to 2-5-1 in dual meets for the year. As the team enters its taper period, it will attempt to increase speed and power before conference championships.
Second-year Katherine Yang led the way, winning two events for the Maroons, the 200-yard freestyle (2:01.48) and the 500-yard freestyle (5:21.01).
Fourth-year captains Deb Ayoub and Emily Testa finished one-two in the 200-yard IM in 2:01.28 and 2:01.98, respectively. Finally, the 200-yard freestyle relay team of Ayoub, Testa, first-year Cat Vanier, and fourth-year captain Erin Lyons won in a time of 1:47.67.
Chicago's fourth-year captains, who have consistently turned in the team's best individual and relay performances this year, look forward to closing out their UAA careers at home.
"The home pool advantage gives us the best possible circumstances for swimming fast," Testa said. "I know it means a lot to the team as a whole, and the senior class in particular, to have the chance to host the UAA teams in our own facility.
"We've had a number of outstanding swims over the course of the season. Now, for conference, all those outstanding swims need to coincide on the same day for a great team performance."
Entering the biggest meet of the seasonUAA championships at Ratner two weekends from nowthe Maroons are focused on improving their times and competing strongly in championships. They will face a tough field, including the nation's top two teams, Emory and Wash U.
Still, the team, having swam through one of their toughest schedules in recent years, look forward to building upon recent success. "We had some very good swims this weekend and are looking forward to doing even better at our conference meet," Ayoub said. "We have worked very hard all season and are excited about UAAs."
"It is difficult to compare year to year," said women's head coach Sheila O'Connor of this year's improvements. "But I would say that we are stronger as a team this year, and we are looking forward to everyone swimming lifetime bests at UAA championships."