February 15, 2005

Swimming teams host Chicag's first UAA championship

With a shockingly successful regular season complete, men's swimming finished sixth in the weekend's UAA championships hosted at the Myers-McLoraine pool. The Maroons placed ahead of Case Western (ranked 15th in the nation) and University of Rochester and behind Emory (1st), Carnegie Mellon, NYU (6th), Wash U (8th), and Brandeis. Emory won the conference title for the seventh year in a row.

The Maroons (7-1 in dual meets) had high hopes coming into the event, with the possibility of finishing as strong as second or third. However, sixth still marks the team's best finish in 14 years, which bodes well for the young, improving Chicago squad.

"I thought we'd have a strong chance at a top-four place," men's head coach George Villareal said. "I think that we were a bit more confident about our swims during the season, with all our dual-meet success, and we may have lost sight of how truly good the UAA is.

"After all, last year seven of eight men's teams scored at NCAAs. We were shown again how strong our league is."

Despite the slightly disappointing team performance, the men still put together some great individual swims worthy of NCAA championship designation. Fourth-year Northe Saunders, an All-American last year, finished third in the 200-yard freestyle and qualified provisionally for the NCAA finals. Saunders added a second-place finish in the 100-yard freestyle to earn another spot in the national finals.

In addition to Saunders, two relay teams provisionally qualified for NCAAs for the first time in the program's history. The group of first-year Jason Azares, second-year Pat Seastedt, first-year Hiro Hayashi and Saunders qualified in the 200-yard medley relay, and the group of first-year Andrew Kent, second-year James Viccaro, Hayashi, and Saunders qualified in the 400-yard freestyle medley.

"We will have these guys build right up again to normal training intensities and then taper again before NCAAs," Villarreal said. "The selection date is March 2, so I will keep the guys training until then. We also have a last chance meet this weekend at Wheaton College, and I think that Azares may have a chance to improve his 200 fly time and qualify for NCAAs."

Second-year Jason Seastedt placed fourth in the 200-yard breaststroke in the time of 2:10.12 and finished fifth in the 100-yard breaststroke in 58.96. First-year Dan Maguire finished fifth in the 1650-yard freestyle in a time of 16:35.61.

Although the team couldn't break through the tough UAA crowd, the Maroons are already hungry for next season. "Our team is young, and hopefully, they got a taste of our league and what they need to do to improve. I already see it in their eyes," Villarreal said. "It should bode well that the team is really close and that they have certain goals. We need to capture and keep this enthusiasm, and show our recruits that we have business to take care of.

I think we saw the beginning of something special, so I'm confident that things should continue to progress. Next year's goal: top five! Not too bad for the best league in the nation."

The women's swimming and diving team finished in last place in the similarly tough women's side of the UAA championships, but was inspired by some exceptional personal performances. The Maroons (2-5-1 in dual meets) finished behind a strong field, including the nation's top two teams, Emory and Wash U.

"Our performance was expected," said fourth-year tri-captain Erin Lyons. "We are quite aware that our team does not have the numbers or the depth to compete with some of the powerhouses in the league. Our program is growing, and we hope to continue to see progress."

Second-year Katherine Yang, one of the team's three best swimmers this year, placed highest for Chicago, finishing 11th in both the 200-yard and 1650-yard freestyle events.

Though the team knew that they were still too small a team to challenge the conference on a team level, most swimmers were able to meet their goal of swimming personal best times.

"The real highlight of the meet was seeing so many people on our team swim season-best times," said senior tri-captain Emily Testa, who placed 15th in the 100-yard freestyle (58.08). "All the hours of practice were thus worth it in the end. A lot of people also really stepped up for the relays. It was wonderful to have divers competing for us for the first time in many years and scoring points."

Each of the three tri-captain fourth-years placed in consolation finals. Testa finished 15th in the 100-yard freestyle (58.08), Lyons placed 14th in the 1650-yard freestyle (18:54.49), and Deb Ayoub earned 14th place in the 200-yard individual medley (2:18.60).

"We had some people make it back to the consolation finals, which was fun for the team," Testa said. "Everyone gained experience in swimming in an intense prelims-finals meet, which should help the team in the coming years."

Aside from the graduating swimmers' personal success, that experience the younger swimmers gained this year should be the best sign for the team's future. Having added eight first-years this season, the women are looking to take even more big steps.

"There have been many changes over the past four years, and the team has grown beyond anything I could have expected my first year," Testa said. "I have a lot of faith that this team will achieve impressive things in the next few years—both as individuals and as a group.

"I will definitely miss being part of such a dynamic group of fun, energetic, and smart girls," Lyons added. "The team has a great spirit, and I am sure we'll see the budding talent from this season bloom in the coming years. First-year Cat Vanier has made great strides, and you can look for her to really shine next year. Yang will also continue to be a high scorer."

Having a top facility at the Myers-McLoraine Pool has been a major contributing factor in the continued improvement of the team.

"When I started at Chicago we were swimming in a 20-yard pool two days a week, and we didn't have an on-campus facility until last year. It's been great to see the team grow and thrive with the new pool," Lyons said. "I was really excited to see such a good turnout of spectators this weekend. It really pumped up the team."