January 10, 2006

Olivet blows short-handed women’s swimmers out of water

Stripped of some of its newfound depth, women’s swimming dropped its first meet out of winter break.

Having lost most of the team’s third-years to the Taking the Next Step program and scattered others due to illness, the Maroons (2–4) couldn’t hang with a better equipped Olivet squad, losing 224–73. The Comets (5–2) took top honors in 12 events, including both relays.

It was one of the few Chicago third-years who decided to compete that ended up heading the Maroons’ efforts. Distance swimmer Katherine Yang won both the 500- and 1,000-yard freestyles with times of 5:27.69 and 11:12.41. Last year’s top-points earner, Yang has again been Chicago’s leader, both in and out of the water.

“Katherine dominated the 1,000 free and the 500 free,” said first-year Rachel Zarnke, who led her team in the 100-yard backstroke (third, 1:11.81) and 200-yard butterfly (fourth, 2:28.94). “There is no stopping the swim machine, our fearless captain.”

Saturday’s meet was the Maroons’ first since an 11-day training trip in Fort Meyers, Florida, over the extended break. Woken at 5 a.m. daily, the swimmers were put through the paces of grueling three- or five-hour workouts. Hard training will continue for the next few weeks before the Maroons taper their regimens for conference and postseason competition.

Though some were faced with rustiness from not having raced competitively since November 19, a few underclassmen built off the trip and posted personal bests, earning special recognition from teammates. Second-year distance swimmer Allyson Smally—“our silent fighter,” according to Zarnke—dropped roughly 18 seconds off her previous mark in the 1,000 freestyle with a time of 12:47.53. First-year Kaitlin Roche also shaved off major time on her 200-yard free run, touching the wall at 2:12.96, a six second improvement.

“Obviously that training trip really helped because of some of the time drops at Saturday’s meet,” said Yang, emphasizing the goals of building stamina and swimming while fatigued. “The training trip mentally toughened the team because we had 11 days of consistently difficult and challenging practices.

“One of our goals is to continue, up until the end of the year, the consistency and dedication to the team that was strengthened,” she said.

Now Chicago will look to put together the individual improvements and improved intensity with the depth that head coach Sheila O’Connor has been accumulating the past couple years. With a strong class of 11 first-year swimmers this season, the Maroons have already been enjoying their most team successes in recent memory.

“I hope that we can intensify our ferocity in the meets to come,” Zarnke said. “We were down some women this weekend due to illness, but I am sure that we will be in full force for the meets to come and be able to deliver an outstanding performance.”

This weekend’s two-day Chicago Invite, which will again include Olivet, will be split into three sessions and see the Maroons entering swimmers in their UAA events. Last year’s squad won the competition and broke five pool records, two individual and three relay. Yang was part of the milestone-setting 400- and 800-yard freestyle relay teams (3:58.00 and 8:39.67). Yang will lead those two squads this time, with three new swimmers joining her.

Pick up Friday’s Maroon for a preview of the Chicago Invite, which starts Friday at 6:30 p.m.