SPORTS

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January 24, 2006

No divers, no mercy for women’s swimmers at Wheaton Triangular

There was no rest for the weary as women’s swimming ploughed through its last week of demanding training and a competitive meet in the final preparations for the UAA championship.

The Maroons (2–6) faced some of their strongest opposition in the pool to date, falling to the sixth-ranked host Thunder 147–57 and Carthage 131–73 at the Wheaton Triangular dual meet Saturday. Top swimmers on the day included the team’s captain, third-year Katherine Yang, and first-years Sarah Laws, Rachel Zarnke, and Kaitlin Roche.

The small Chicago squad took on swimming powerhouse Wheaton, a program with national qualifiers every season, and a recently developed Carthage program that has added depth to its roster over the past few years.

“Wheaton and Carthage are a little more competitive than we’re used to swimming against,” Roche said. “We wanted to swim well, and I’m pretty happy with how we did.”

The diving-less competition made the day even tougher for Chicago. Diving was a critical part of their success in last weekend’s Chicago Invitational, where the squad posted the 76 points necssary to clinch second place. Wheaton has the boards but doesn’t compete in diving.

Head coach Sheila O’Connor wasn’t expecting stellar performances from her swimmers Saturday. At this point in the season, everyone is tired from the training that begins tapering off this week, and some are still battling illnesses from break.

“We had a few people still swim out of their minds,” O’Connor said.

The Maroons didn’t make a splash until Laws took third place in the 100-yard freestyle. Laws’s 56.92-second time was another in a string of strong sprints recently, including in the 50-yard and 100-yard free last weekend.

Yang dove in next for the Maroons with back-to-back third-place finishes in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events, slapping the wall at 2:03.17 and 5:24.23. Laws stayed hot on her heels in the 200 with a 2:05.16 time for the fifth spot.

Roche grabbed second in the 200-yard breaststroke, trailing Wheaton first-year Renee Shear by 2.02 seconds. Her 2:36.64 finish marks a new season best in the event. Warding off rising times late in the season, Roche neared her 2:23.31 time in the 200-yard IM by finishing third in the same race at 2:24.45.

Claiming the Maroons’ only first-place finish was Zarnke in the 200-yard butterfly. Her 2:21.39 time edged out Wheaton third-year Blanche Conger by a full second and set a new personal record. Zarnke pulled in third in the same event last weekend at 2:24.58.

Chicago’s A squad, featuring first-years Callie Brown and Whitney Biber, Yang, and Laws closed out the day, finishing third (3:53.71) in the 400-yard freestyle relay.

Making the most of the meet, the Maroons used the time to perfect their techniques and mechanics.

“Many of the girls made huge steps forward at this weekend’s meet,” Yang said.

Second-year Allyson Smally continued to make huge strides, setting new personal records in each of her events. This is the third meet in a row that Smally has pulled off the feat.

After a long, harsh road of training and a taste of big-time racing from Wheaton and Carthage, the Maroons set their sights on making it all pay off at the conference play in February.

“Swimming against these fast teams helped us get ready for UAAs, where every swim will be competitive,” Yang said.

This week some of the swimmers will start tapering on their physical training to keep them fresh for the league showdown, but everyone is focused on getting psyched for the three-day event, where they finished eighth last season.

“I think we’ll definitely have some girls placing in the top 16, which will really help us out,” Roche said.

The Maroons have one last meet before the conference championships February 9-11 this Saturday at DePauw, where O’Connor will be making final judgments on her lineup.

“Hopefully we’ll have fine-tuned all our race plans after Saturday and determine how fast and how hard we can go out and where we need to bring things back faster,” O’Connor said.