As the regular season came to a close on Saturday, the swimming and diving teams took on their toughest test yet and wound up with mixed marks.
Taking on the highly touted squads from DePauw in the warm waters of Ratner, the men’s team raced to a 184–115 victory while the women got set back 166–121. Coming into the dual meet, the Tigers were ranked ninth in the men’s half and 15th in women’s.
The teams’ performances look especially impressive in light of the talent DePauw brings to the pool. Although they are not on the level of the top UAA squads on deck for the upcoming conference meet, DePauw is clearly among the best teams the Maroons have seen this winter.
“They’re a very strong, deep team,” head coach Jason Weber said. “The men have some of the best sprinters in the country, guys who scored at the NCAAs last year, and the women have four or five NCAA-caliber swimmers on their team. In terms of competition, they’re the strongest team we’ve faced this season.”
But the Maroons answered the call, particularly the men, who turned in one of their most complete performances of the 2007–2008 campaign at just the right time.
“This was probably our best all-around meet,” Weber said. “It was our best performance of the year, and our guys had to do that in order to win.”
For the men, the win caps off a nearly perfect regular-season slate. The team finished 8–0 in dual meets and took first in one of its two multi-team meets this season. At the other multi-team meet, the Maroon Invitational in early November, conference rival Wash U narrowly edged Chicago out of first place. And that success has not come against any pushovers, either, as Saturday’s win is the third over ranked competition for Chicago, which also beat 13th-ranked Carthage and 14th-ranked Kalamazoo in January.
On the women’s side, losing to DePauw dropped the Maroons to 6–3 on the year in dual meets. Before Saturday’s competition, 9th-ranked Wheaton had been the only team to best Chicago, doing so once in October and the again in January.
Amidst the teams’ mixed fortunes there were several record-setting individual efforts. First-year Ellie Elgamal turned in Chicago records in the 200-yard individual medley (2:13.37) and the 100-yard butterfly (57.72). While her butterfly time secured Elgamal top honors in the event, fourth-year Katie Doogan of DePauw was a hair faster in individual medley, leaving Elgamal in second place.
School records are nothing new for Elgamal, who already owned the best time in the 100-fly and has also set the Chicago standard in 200-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke during her short career.
Not to be outdone, third-year Shane Carlson got into the act and etched his name into the men’s record book with a time of 1:58.14 in the 200-yard individual medley. That time was good enough for a first-place finish, as was Carlson’s 1:43.89 performance in the 200-yard freestyle.
Those sorts of impressive individual performances not only put points on the board but give the squad motivation and momentum as it moves on towards its postseason meets.
“It’s exciting for them when they’re feeling tired and run down and they’ve been swimming hard all week to come out a step up and swim fast,” Weber said. “It gives them a lot of confidence, lets them know they can swim fast any time no matter how they feel. So when they go to the UAA championships and they’re rested and feel great in the water, they’ll swim that much better.”
Also separating themselves from the pack were fourth-year Zach Ergish and first-year Sebastien Davis-VanGelder. Ergish cleaned up in the breaststroke events, nabbing first in both the 100-yard and 200-yard editions, and Davis-VanGelder took care of the backstroke by winning in the same distances as Ergish.
In the women’s competition, second-year Cassie O’Neill found her way to the top spot in the 200-yard breaststroke.
Although O’Neill and Elgamal were the only individual winners for the women’s squad, the Maroons also managed to scrounge up some victories in the meet’s relay races. Led by Elgamal and third-year Sara Laws, the women’s 400-yard medley relay team kicked its way to a commanding victory, beating the Tigers’ best foursome by nearly seven seconds.
In the next event, the Chicago men’s 400-yard medley relay matched the women’s performance. Four Maroons, anchored by Davis-VanGelder and fourth-year Hiro Hayashi, turned in a time of 3:33.75, just a moment better than DePauw’s time. The relay victories, which opened the meet for both the women and the men, earned the teams 11 points each and got Chicago off to a fast start.
Unfortunately for the women, victories proved scarce throughout the rest of the match. Outside of O’Neill and Elgamal, the biggest highlights of the day came from fourth-year Monica Buckley and second-year Carla Penicka, the women’s diving duo. Penicka had the high score in the one-meter dive and Buckley was first in the three-meter dive.
Though Penicka and Buckley brought in some points, it wasn’t nearly enough for the women. By day’s end, the DePauw women had built a substantial lead by tallying victories in 12 of the 16 events. Though the Maroons’ overall performance was not as competitive as the team would have liked, it may have been due to factors beyond their control.
“The ladies performed really well, but we just didn’t have the number,” Weber said. “We have a lot of our girls’ swimmers out because of injuries or sickness. I think if we had two or three of those girls who were sick, we would have made the meet much, much closer.”
The ailing Maroons will have some time to rest up before the postseason gets into gear. The conference showdown begins February 20, two weeks from tomorrow, and runs from Wednesday to Saturday in Rochester, N.Y. The teams will need to be as healthy and prepared as they can be in order to compete in the deep, talent-rich waters of UAA competition. Of the eight teams in the league, five men’s teams and four women’s teams are currently ranked. Among those in the top 25 is Emory, which has won nine consecutive UAA titles on both sides and is overwhelmingly favored to extend the streak to 10.
“We’re probably in the toughest conference in all of Division III swimming,” Weber said.