SPORTS

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February 13, 2007

Dirty dozen: Men shatter records in the pool.

In the nation’s toughest swimming conference, progress is rarely made by leaps and bounds. Men’s swimming took another huge step toward the upper echelon of the UAA with a record-shattering performance at the league championships.

Competing Thursday through Saturday in Cleveland, five Maroons hit provisional national qualifying standards in five different events and 21st-ranked Chicago continued its ascent in the league standings. They’ve risen from the basement in 2004 to a best-ever fifth place over the weekend. The squad was paced by 12 school record-breaking performances and a host of personal best top-10 times. Second-ranked Emory continued its dominance at the top of the table, cruising to a first-place showing by nearly 500 points over NYU.

Missing out on a first-place showing by just seven hundredths of a second, the 400-yard medley relay provided the Maroons’ best finish on the day and marked the continued evolution of the squad from also-rans to national power. Chicago nabbed its highest finish in any UAA relay and set a new school record by five seconds, grabbing silver with an NCAA B-cut time of 3:28.79.

After first-year Brian Young’s backstroke leg put the Maroons in fourth, fourth-year Pat Seastedt passed three swimmers in the first 50 yards of the breaststroke to put the team in the top spot. Second-year Alex Stabell maintained the lead in the butterfly leg of the race, putting the Maroons in position to possibly pull out the improbable victory.

“He had been swimming fast all year, and I expected him to do well, but I did not expect him to do as well as he did in the relay,” head coach Jason Weber said. “The fact that he went that fast really put us in a position to win.”

Chicago held a slim lead over Emory and Carnegie going into the freestyle leg, but it was far from safe with a three-time All-American waiting to dive in for the Eagles. Chasing the soon-to-be-disqualified Tartans and fighting to maintain his team’s lead over the Atlanta men heading into the final stretch, fourth-year James Viccaro could not hold off the challenge from Eagles fourth-year Andrew Callam. For Chicago, it marked an improvement of nearly seven seconds over last season’s best time, and the squad shaved 13 seconds off of its seeded time.

“I expected the medley relays to be our best events,” Weber said. “I thought they had a good shot at NCAAs just because we had some of the top swimmers in each event, but it didn’t really set in until we had 150 [yards] left and I saw Alex Stabell doing his fly leg, and we were in first place. I didn’t really think about what place we were gonna get and it just sorta dawned on me, ‘Wow, this is an amazing swim for our guys, and we could be UAA champions.’ Everyone got really excited and started jumping up and down. It was just a great moment for the program.

“I think it was sort of at that moment that a lot of the other teams started doing double takes and looking and going ‘Wow, they are going pretty fast’—no one expected us to go that fast. I got a lot of coaches who came up to me during the meet and after the meet saying our guys did an amazing job.”

The same troupe of swimmers narrowly missed out on a second qualification but broke another school record in the 200-yard medley relay. The squad finished in third with a time of 1:35.34—only .24 seconds away from an NCAA B-cut.

While the relays demonstrated Chicago’s considerable depth, the Maroons proved their worth in the individual events as well. After spending much of the winter and fall campaign trying his luck at new events in an effort to improve his versatility, second-year Shane Carlson showed no signs of a sophomore slump, hitting an NCAA provisional qualifying standard for the 1650-yard freestyle, an event in which he holds the school record. Carlson clocked in at sixth over the weekend in a time of 16:22.27.

The Texan rewrote the record books in two other events as well, taking seventh in the 500 freestyle in 4:40.74 and slapping the wall in the 400 IM in 4:11.20.

Following in Carlson’s wake, first-year Chase Bassignani submitted a career performance in Cleveland as well. Bassignani sliced 13 seconds off his previous best in the 500 freestyle in 4:47.33, slashed another five seconds from his 400 IM time (4:14.42), and cut more than half a minute from his prior PR in the mile (16:49.91).

Just as Carlson’s and Bassignani’s performances marked the growth of the program’s promise, Seastedt proved that the squad consists of more than just budding talent in the individual events by posting a provisional-qualifying time in two events and earning All–UAA honors. The veteran qualified for his first-ever trip to nationals with a fourth-place finish in the 100 breaststroke, hitting the wall in 58.56. He followed it up with another fourth in the 200 breaststroke, getting an NCAA B-cut in the prelims before turning out a time of 2:08.91 in the final. Should the Maroons captain advance to nationals, it would mark a well deserved final honor in a distinguished career.

“I was extremely nervous going into my races because you never know how well you are going to swim under that kind of pressure, so I just took out all of my races as hard and fast as I could go,” Seastedt said.“I knew I had a shot at making some NCAA cuts; I was just off the cuts last year while having mono, so I wanted to come into UAAs this year with something to prove, and I wanted to leave Chicago swimming with a bang.”

Seastedt’s teammates in the relays chipped in record-breaking All–UAA performances of their own as well with a pair of third-place showings. Stabell added to his qualification for NCAAs in the prelims by taking the bronze in the 100 butterfly with a new school-best time of 51.51 seconds, while Young narrowly missed out on another national standard of his own in the 100 breaststroke, finishing in 53.01.

Records fell in the 200 butterfly, 200 IM, and one-meter dive as well, as third-years Jason Azares (1:56.18), Zach Ergish (1:58.23), and Paul Accardi (228.85) all set new marks.

With the season now over for all but the select few, the Maroons will have time to reflect on a season that marked continued movement toward the ultimate goal of contending in the UAA. While they have not yet cracked the top four, the Maroons have a talented and deep foundation returning next year along with another strong recruiting class. For Chicago, the best is still yet to come.

“I think next year we’re going to be right there,” Weber said. “It showed a lot of the teams that they should notice us because we’ve been improving every year over the last three years, and we’ve had the most NCAA qualifying times we’ve ever had in the history of the program.

“We’re placing relays in the top three. We’re having multiple swimmers challenge for UAA championships. So we’re definitely being noticed, and I think it just -means that we’ve arrived. I think that people realize we’re just going to get better every year; it’s sort of a trend that’s going to continue. It’s a great stepping stone for our program.”