For Chicago’s swimming and diving teams, this year’s UAA championships were one more indication of how far the programs have come.
Both the women’s and men’s teams recorded their best finishes in the 22-year history of the conference meet, placing second and third, respectively. Host Emory won both the men’s and women’s meets.
The Maroons certainly still have some distance to go in order to mount a serious challenge to Emory’s dominance in the UAA, but this year’s championships continued the upward trend that began with the hiring of head coach Jason Weber in June 2006. At the last UAA meet prior to Weber’s elevation from assistant to head coach, Chicago’s men finished sixth while the women finished seventh. Since then, the Maroons’ performance at the conference meet has gotten better each year.
In recognition of Chicago’s improvement, Weber and his staff were named UAA Coaching Staff of the Year for women’s swimming and women’s diving. Weber feels that the recognition for his teams’ hard work is overdue.
“It’s something that I feel like we should have won before,” he said. “For me, it meant that we were finally recognized by the coaches and the swimmers in the conference. It’s always great to win an award voted on by your peers.”
First-year diver Rebecca Schmidt was Chicago’s top individual performer over the weekend. Schmidt won both the one-meter and three-meter diving competitions and was named women’s Diver of the Year.
On the men’s side, third-year Ed Wagner was the only Maroon to win an event. He got first in the 200-yard breaststroke and earned all-UAA honors in two other events. He finished second in the 100-yard backstroke and was part of Chicago’s third-place 400-yard medley relay team, alongside fourth-year Brian Young, first-year Charles Du, and second-year Marius Aleksa.
Aleksa also took second in the 50-yard freestyle and swam the first leg for Chicago’s second-place 200-yard freestyle relay team, which included first-year Kevin Yang, third-year James Schlabach, and second-year Nicolas Santoro.
Besides Schmidt, the other winner for the women was second-year Tara Levens, who set a UAA record in winning the 100-yard backstroke. Like Aleksa, Levens had even further success in relays. She combined with first-year Olivia Mapes, third-year Ellie Elgamal, and first-year Kathleen Taylor to finish second in the 400-yard medley relay, and finished third in the 200-yard medley relay, along with Elgamal, second-year Morgan McCarty, and first-year Grete Grubelich.
Another successful relay team, consisting of first-years Kathleen Taylor and Hannah Loek and second-years Laura Biery and Jacqueline Trudeau, placed second in the 800-yard freestyle relay.
Biery and Elgamal also picked up individual UAA honors with third-place finishes in the 400-yard individual medley and 100-yard butterfly, respectively. Finally, first-year Tatum Stewart finished third in the 200-yard butterfly.
Weber mentioned Biery as one of the swimmers who surprised him with her performance.
“She was one of our better swimmers going in, but I didn’t think she would swim as fast as she did,” Weber said. “She chopped nine seconds off [her 400-yard IM time].”
Now the Maroons’ focus turns to this weekend’s Midwest Invitational, which Chicago will host. The meet provides one last chance for swimmers to reach national qualifying standards in advance of March’s NCAA Championships, which will be held in Minneapolis.
No matter what happens Friday and Saturday, though, Chicago will be able to look back after the season on a job well done at the conference championships.
“We broke a lot of school records. There are a lot of things that we can be proud of,” Weber said.