November 21, 2006

Swimming ends fall season unsinkable

Going into Saturday’s home doubleheader, women’s swimming thought it would be lucky to break even. But a breakout performance coupled with another strong showing from the men’s squad helped the Maroons end their fall in late-season form.

Taking on a pair of tough regional squads, Chicago earned a surprise sweep as both teams upped their dual meet records to an impeccable 5–0. The men trounced Lake Forest 174–94 and edged Grinnell 166–124, while the women drowned the Foresters 208-–69 and pulled off a narrow 15-point win over the Pioneers, 157–142.

For the women, the victories marked the best start in school history and displayed the continued growth of a young program. The men matched their start from last autumn, and both squads were powered by a number of personal and season best performances.

“It was a great meet for the women. They were ecstatic,” head coach Jason Weber said. “I think it’s a turning point for the program. It was a total team effort. I was very proud of them. A lot of girls were going for their best times. Usually you don’t see that this early in the season.”

After falling relatively easily to Grinnell last season at Myers-McLoraine, the women entered the meet with tempered expectations, shooting instead for a win over the Foresters and good competition with Pioneers. Once the races actually started, though, all the odds and history between the two schools were swept aside.

Leading the way once more for the Maroons in her debut season, first-year Cassie O’Neill won both breaststroke events, clocking in at 2:29.82 in the 200 and finishing the 100 in 1:10.69. Second-year Sarah Laws did her part as well, taking the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races with times of 25.91 and 56.68.

It was the more unexpected performances, though, that proppelled Chicago to victory. Displaying remarkable stamina as well as speed, third-year Ellie McNeill was first to the wall in the 1,000 freestyle and jumped right back into the pool for the next race, taking third (2:07.48) in the 200 freestyle to give her team some much needed points. First-year Kathie Ang chipped in with personal best times in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly (second in 1:03.46, third 2:19.18). The meet will only serve to boost the young squad’s confidence as they make preparations for the second half of the season.

“They were pretty excited,” said Weber, who is in his first year at the helm of the swimming programs. “I told them before the meet that if we get girls winning events and everyone scoring, we can win this meet.”

While the men entered the day with higher hopes, they lived up to their goals thanks to top times from some usual suspects. Third-year Zach Ergish, who has been nothing short of dominant this fall, continued to post impressive numbers with season-best performances in all three of his races. Ergish took first in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:01.59) and in the 200 (2:14.82). Second-year Shane Carlson, who put a big stamp on the record books last fall, has been stretched out across different events this year with the emergence of first-year distance swimmers Chase Bassignani, Nick Trojanowski, and Kenn Miller. While Carlson is swimming in different races, the speed is still there and he took first in the 500 freestyle in 4:46.31.

“For the men, overall, it was probably the best showing the team has had all year,” Weber said. “Both opponents were solid, but the men sort of knew they could win easily, so I challenged them. They had to win every event. And they lived up to that. It was the most dominant meet of the year, and I think they can finish undefeated if they keep swimming like that.”

The early success comes as a welcome sign for a pair of programs that do not have lengthy histories of success. The Maroons will now have a well-deserved six weeks off from meet competition, but the schedule won’t get any easier from here. Both squads will travel to Sarasota, Florida during winter break for a training trip before returning to action January 12–13 when they host the Chicago Invite.