There’s a good chance UW–Milwaukee will be the team to finally muss up the spotless, 5–0 dual-meet records that men’s and women’s swimming have assembled this season. But this weekend’s meet is one that shouldn’t be reduced to only an L or a W.
As swimming head coach Jason Weber will tell you, there is little question that the visiting Panthers could outpace the Maroons in Myers-McLoraine Pool tomorrow.
“[Milwaukee’s] top person in each event is by far faster than ours,” Weber said. “Conceivably, they could win every single event if they put up their best lineup.”
Such are the advantages of being a D–I team and competing with scholarship athletes on your roster. Odds are, though, that the Panthers will look further down their depth chart, and opt to give some less-experienced swimmers a chance to compete against Chicago. As Weber predicts, that should make the two squads more evenly matched and give the Maroons a chance to win with a particularly strong showing.
But whatever the final score, the meet will be most valuable as a metric of the Maroons’ progress, and as an opportunity for them to acclimate themselves to swimming against top talent. A year ago, the Panthers brought a lesser lineup to Chicago and still managed sizable victories over the men and the women. Keeping the meet closer this time around could make clear how the Maroons have improved in the interim.
“Last year, the meet was definitely one-sided in their favor. However, both our men’s and our women’s teams are a lot stronger than last year,” second-year Tara Levens said. “We have a lot more depth in nearly every event, so hopefully we will be more competitive this weekend.”
Just as in her first year, Levens has often scored for Chicago in backstroke events this season. Weber mentioned the backstroke as one area where Chicago could top even Milwaukee’s best, so a good afternoon from Levens would be a boost for her team as a whole.
Tomorrow’s meet will also give the Maroons a feel for the competition they’ll see when they get to UAAs in February and—with a little luck—NCAAs in March. Weber said the Panthers would be almost as strong as the best teams in D–III, including Emory, which has one of the very best teams nationally in men’s and women’s and will be the heavy favorite to win UAAs.
To prepare for teams like Emory, the Maroons swim against some of the best teams in the Midwest, including Milwaukee, and second-year Paul Morimoto said that sort of preparation makes a difference for him.
“I’ve been in enough big meets not to be in awe of or intimidated by your competition,” Morimoto said. “You have to stay focused and understand that your training is going to allow you to race whoever goes up against you.”
And even if Chicago’s teams aren’t in a position to top Milwaukee’s first string this season, as the Maroons keep up their training and continue to attract impressive high school swimmers, it could soon be the Panthers who have to stay focused and not get overawed.
“I think in the future, we’re definitely going to be more competitive, because we continue to build our program, bring in better recruits every year, so we’re only going to get better,” Weber said. “And I think eventually we’re definitely going to be a step above UW–Milwaukee.”