SPORTS

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February 11, 2005

Swimming hosts nation's best for UAA championships

History could be in the making for men's swimming.

Chicago hosts the UAA championships this weekend in the Myers-McLoraine Pool, and hopes are high two days into the competition. By the end of events tomorrow night, the Maroons are looking to have added a crowning laurel to an extremely successful season.

The men's team enters the weekend at 7-1 and ranked 14th in the nation, with their sole loss coming on January 22 to a top ten Wheaton squad. The Maroons have taken down three extremely strong opponents, out-swimming eighth-ranked Washington, 12th-ranked Carthage College, and 13th-ranked DePauw. This weekend pits them against top-ranked Emory, a team favored to win its seventh straight conference title, along with sixth-ranked NYU, Washington, and 15th-ranked Case Western. Brandeis, Carnegie-Mellon, and Rochester will also participate.

The Maroons remain confident in their chances despite these challenges and a last-place finish a year ago. Chicago has never finished better than fifth in the conference, but that may change by Sunday morning. The Maroons have positioned themselves this year as a rising star in the competitive UAA.

"I think the teams in the top five will include Carnegie, Washington and NYU," said head coach George Villarreal.  "Depending on who has a strong meet, everyone could be in the mix for second through sixth.  I think we have a good chance to do better than any Chicago team has done at UAAs."

Chicago has emerged on top in most of its close races this year, which bodes well for a weekend that has already featured a number of tightly contested events.

A great showing from fourth-year Northe Saunders will be critical if the Maroons intend to achieve this goal, and has some business of his own to attend to. Saunders has the fourth-best 200-yard freestyle mark in the conference this year at 1:43.78, and needs to shave less than a second off that time to qualify for the national championships. At last year's UAA championships, Saunders set a meet record in the 100-yard freestyle, coming in at 45.92. This season, he is ranked ninth in the league at that event, having clocked a season-best of 47.30.

Saunders has also been a key contributor on the 400-yard freestyle squad, which will attempt to qualify for the nationals Saturday night in what should be a high point of the meet.

The Maroons have finished their taper period and are feeling strong.

"Each swimmer has a different reaction to taper during the process, but generally, early on, they feel rotten as the muscles rebuild," said Villarreal. "Now, they are full of energy and ready to translate that to the pool. Everyone feels confident."

The meet runs Wednesday through Saturday, with morning events beginning at 10:00 a.m. and evening races starting at 6:00 p.m., giving swimmers and fans alike the unusual experience of a night meet.