In a dead heat with Carthage College late in the meet, men's swimming needed a comeback to avoid suffering their first defeat.
Fourth-year Northe Saunders and first-years Hiro Hayashi and Andrew Kent got it started in the 100-yard freestyle, finishing 1-3-5 to help the team begin erasing its deficit and capture top honors at the two-day Chicago Invitational.
The Maroons beat five other teams in the meet, held in three sessions January 14 and 15, with a score of 1,024 points. Carthage College was the closest competitor to the hosts, with 995.5 points, and traded the lead with the Maroons throughout the sessions. Chicago was unable to pull away for good until the end.
The University of Chicago women's swim team also won this weekend, accumulating 836 points, and defeating College of DuPage, which had 696 points, Illinois Tech which came home with 621, Principia College, which came in fourth with 511, and Benedictine, which lagged behind with 347 points.
Second-year Katharine Yang led the way for the women's side, blowing away the field in 2:03.90 in the 200-yard freestyle and again in the 1650-yard freestyle with an 18:34.41 mark. She also came in second in the 500-yard freestyle. Second-year Ashley Bourne joined Yang in the winner's circle, scoring a 241.35 to win the 3-meter dive.
"People are settling into their events and getting really excited, as evidenced by some truly outstanding swims this weekend," said fourth-year Emily Testa. "The team swam fast without much rest, so if this was a good indication, the next few meets will likely see more time drops."
While not among the big droppers, fourth-year Debora Ayoub still had a strong day for herself, scorign a second place finish in the 200-yard medley with a 2:21.48 mark, and another second place showing in the 400-yard medley with a time of 5:04.41.
In coming back against Carthage, the men's team also sealed victory over Illinois Tech (third, 666.5), College of Dupage (fourth, 229), Principia College (fifth, 218), and Benedictine (sixth, 33).
According to head coach George Villarreal, the emotional spark for the men's comeback came during the 200-yard breaststroke.
"We really needed to step up in the 200 breaststroke, where they had four guys entered, and we had three. The turning point was second-year Nate Robert's swim in the first of two heats, when he won the heat and recorded his best time ever in that event," Villarreal said. "I think that really started the ball rolling.
"In the second heat, both second-year Pat Seastedt and first-year Zach Ergish swam very brave races, going out fast and trying to hold on. They didn't win, but they swam to personal records, showing the rest of the team that they had some real fight."
The next event, the 200-yard butterfly, supplied the Maroons with the points they needed to pass Carthage. First-year Jason Azares, third-year Dan Timke, and first-year Gabe Bugajski swept the top three, with Bugajski throwing his arms up in celebration after out-touching Carthage for third. Chicago was swimming on a high swell of emotion, and the team never looked back, leaving Carthage in its wake.
In defeating Carthage, the Maroons took down a quality Division III opponent and a program with strengths that Chicago intends to imitate. Carthage has spent the fast few years build the depth that Chicago now strives to develop.
The day was marked by a number of personal, pool, and school bests by the Maroons. Chicago set team and pool records in the 200-yard freestyle relay with a 1:28.46 mark and in the 400-yard freestyle relay with a very respectable 3:12.42. Saunders gained a school record in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:45.45.
The men's team is 6-0 in dual meet action and has now finished first in both invitationals it has entered. But despite their impressive start, the Maroons still have a long way go to go. With strong competition facing them in the final stretch of the season, Chicago will need to continue to improve if they want to seriously contend in the UAA.
"Our league is the best in Division III swimming," Villarreal said. "Emory is a juggernaut, certainly at the top of the pedestal, and Carnegie, NYU and Wash are impressive and very deep teams as well."
The women's team stands at 2-3-1, but showed plenty of heart in winning their first invitational on the heels of a fifth-place finish in the Maroon Invitational November 13.
Both Chicago teams now look towards the Carthage Triangular this Saturday, in which they will face Carthage and Wheaton. The men's team will need to remain focused against a hungry Carthage squad.
"They need to believe," Villarreal said. "They also need to believe that Carthage will definitely be out for blood and retribution. If our guys are emotionally flat this weekend, we'll get trounced."
"It was nice to have a really close meet, because it reinvigorated the spirit of the team. I know we'll be able to bring this momentum in to the upcoming meets and the conference championships," Saunders said.