February 17, 2009

First-years shine in men's fourth-place showing

It was a history-making, record-setting weekend for men’s swimming.

The team took fourth-place at the UAA Championship, which were held at Meyers-McLoraine Pool this weekend. The fourth place finish is the highest ever for the Maroons, and many of the men had provisional times that could qualify them to go to NCAAs.

“This was as close as you could get to a perfect meet,” said head coach Jason Weber. “From the get-go, all of the guys exceeded my expectations in terms of how well they swam and how fast they swam. A lot of them put up really good times at the beginning, and I think it was contagious.”

The meet began Thursday afternoon and spanned three days, ending Saturday evening. One of Chicago’s best races took place Thursday, when the men’s 400-yard medley relay took first place with a time of 3:23.76. That relay team consisted of third-year Brian Young, second-years Ed Wagner and James Schlabach, and fourth-year Alex Stabell.

That foursome broke the UAA record by a whopping two seconds and will likely go on to NCAAs.

“The 400-yard medley relay was one of the most exciting races I have witnessed as a coach,” Weber said.

That was only the beginning for the men. They also took third place in the 200-yard medley relay, with an impressive time of 1:33.79. That relay team was made up of Wagner, Young, Stabell, and first-year Marius Aleksa.

Aleksa also posted a time of 20.30 in the 50-yard freestyle, and a 47.14 in the 100-yard freestyle. Other notable first-years included Paul Morimoto, who scored the most points out of all the first-years. He had a time of 4:07.37 in the 400-yard IM, a 16:29.87 in the 1,650-yard freestyle, and 4:44.57 in the 500-yard freestyle.

“Our freshmen class did extremely well. They were the MVPs of the meet,” Weber said.First-year Erik Widestrom posted strong times as well, with a time of 4:09.78 in the 400-yard IM and 1:56.66 in the 200-yard butterfly.

Weber was also very impressed by first-year Ted Gonder.

“Ted Gonder swam extraordinarily well, considering he had been sick for weeks,” Weber said. Gonder showed he still had what it took to swim fast, putting up times of 48.47 in the 100-yard freestyle, 22.45 in the 50-yard freestyle, and competing in numerous other relays.

The men were competitive throughout the meet, and it seemed they might finish as high as third until the final event Saturday evening. In the end, they had an overall score of 1,057, just a few points behind third-place Wash U. Emory, the winning squad, totaled 1694.5 on the weekend, giving the Eagles their eleventh consecutive UAA title.

Overall Chicago had 15 “B” cuts, meaning that 15 of the men had times that could be good enough for the NCAAs. Making it to the NCAAs on a “B” cut is unlikely, but the number is some indication of how well the men swam at their final team meet of the season.

Looking to the future, Weber is hopeful that at least his 400-yard medley relay team will qualify to swim at nationals. Before they know for certain who is in and who is out at nationals, Weber and his team have to wait for the results from other conference meets, which will be held over the coming weeks.

Next weekend, Chicago will host the Midwest Invitational, a last chance meet for anyone trying to qualify them for NCAAs. Those who did not swim at the UAA meet will swim their final meet this weekend.

“Our focus was UAAs,” Weber said. “But now it’s NCAAs.”