If the first meet of the year is any indication of things to come for men's and women's swimming, then the Maroons just saw their visions of breakthrough seasons begin to pan.
Blasting from the blocks at Wheaton this weekend, the men’s team resoundingly defeated the Thunder 125–77, taking first place in eight of their 11 events. For the women's side, the squad lost out to its host by a mere 112–93 and the three shattered shcool records further proved that Chicago means business this year. This is the first time in program history that the Maroons have taken on Wheaton and is part of scheduling plans to pack in the heavy competition early. The stellar start comes in a large part thanks to the contribution of rookies on both teams with four of the men's golden finishes bagged by first-years and the women's newest class sinking the old program standards.
Starting their Chicago careers in style, first-years Sebastian VanGelder, James Schlabach, and Jacob Hanebutt all triumphed in their events, the 50-, 200-, and 500-yard freestyles respectively. Fellow rookie Dan Nichols similarly beat the competition in the 200-yard individual medley, touching out fourth-year teammate and captain Andrew Kent for the top spot by a full two seconds. Not to be outdone by the newcomers, returning Maroons also slapped the wall for leading times. Other first place wins went to second-year Brian Young in the 200-yard backstroke (2:01.60), third-year Shane Carlson in the 1,000-yard freestyle (10:12.12), and fourth-year Jason Azares in the 200-yard butterfly (1:57.96).
“The team is much better than last year with a really deep and talented group of guys,” remarked head coach Jason Weber, who starts his second season at the helm of a D-III squad.
Similar personal victories characterized the day for the women. First-year Ellie Elgamal began making her bid for the NCAAs by setting a new mark for the 200-yard butterfly by a whopping four seconds. Her winning time of 2:10.03 also crushed her Wheaton opponent by six seconds. Another part of the incoming wave of talent, first-year Katherine Leonard took first in the 100-backstroke with a 1:02.54, beating another Chicago record. In the 500- freestyle, first year Sarah Wynn took first place, as did second-year Cassie O’Neil in the 200 breaststroke to round out the Maroons gold efforts.
Saturday's achievements went beyond individual dominance, with the men also crushing Wheaton in the 400-yard medley relay. Young set the tone, winning again in the backstroke, with first-year Ed Wagner swimming a blazing 1:00.47 in the 100 breast. Third-year Alex Stabell dominated next in the 100 fly, and Kent anchored the relay with a quick 48.27 in the 100 free. For the women, the 400 medley relay team of Leonard, O'Neill, Elagamal, and first-year Charlotte Richman posted a 4:05.93, stamping out Chicago's previous top time by almost two seconds.
The strong outing at Wheaton with the men bottling the Thunder and the women putting up a strong fight has gone a long way in justifying the optimism from the preseason. It also showcased the recruiting efforts for both teams, which has added talent to the roster that could carry the men from last year's fifth-place finish at the UAA Championships to as high as second.
“The guys are deeper, but the girls have more talent,” noted Weber on the difference between the two squads, which have both vastly improved this season.
Next up for swimming is the face off with Illinois Tech and St. Mary’s of Indiana Friday. The teams will bring action back to Myers-McLoraine when they host the top teams in the Midwest at the Maroon Invitational November 9 and 10, just in time for Chicago fans to see their team reaching its training peak.