Swimmers set sights towards conference meet

By Pete Steele

Macalester’s swimming and diving teams wrapped up their regular seasons last weekend at home. The Scots took first and third place, respectively, at the Macalester Invite 2 held at the Riley Pool in the Leonard Center. The meet capped off a season that was by all accounts grueling and challenging, but in which the women finished in the top half of the field at each meet and the men were not far behind.At the meet the men’s team saw strong performances, including Jeff Yamashita’s ’11 win in the 100-yard butterfly finals with a time of 57.24, a win in the 800 yard freestyle relay by Paco Venneri ’12, Josh Tomashek ‘12, Emmet Costel ’09, and Diego Melo ’12 in 9:10.21, and a win in the 200 yard medley relay by Nathan Young ’11,Tomashek, Yamashita, and Seth McIntire ‘09 in 1:46.5. Macalester also grabbed a second place in the men’s 400-yd relay final with the team of Young, Venneri, McIntire, and Yamashita.

The Scots have accomplished these feats and similar ones throughout the season with an extraordinarily small team of six swimmers. That means they swam in these winning efforts and most also racked up points in several other individual events. Young took the MIAC by storm last year en route to honorable mention All-American placings at nationals, and cites this as a significant obstacle for the denizens of the natatorium this year.

“We just don’t have the numbers and the depth,” he said, but added that “[we] believe in our fellow teammates.”

On the women’s side, this past weekend was a chance for the Scots to showcase their versatility. They won long (Katie Vermann ’11 1650-yd freestyle in 19:22.87), they won short (Karoline Hart ‘12 50-yd breaststroke in 31.98), and they won in the middle (Grace Flemming ‘12 500-yd free in 5:25.96). They won on the diving board as well as in the pool, as Annie Flanagan ’09 swept the 1m and 3m diving events. Final proof of their well-roundedness may have been Hilary Frey’s ’12 demonstrated mastery of all four stroke disciplines in winning the 400 yard individual medley in 4:54.58. Along with these individual crows, Macalester won the 800 yd freestyle relay and 400 yd medley relay.

Looking back over the season, “the team has been doing really well and lots of people have been having good seasons despite the tough training and being broken down,” said Hart, a first year.

One of the nice stories for the women’s team this year has been its youth. It has been able to rely on a corps of first year swimmers for big points all year. This group, which includes Frey, Hart, Grace Fleming ’12 and Clare Pillsbury ’12, has consistently swam to first-place finishes. Along with a few veterans such as Flanagan, they have led the Scots to high finishes not just this weekend but also at the Grinnell and St Kate’s Invitationals, where they were third at both meets.

“The folks new to the team this year have all been major contributors,” Coach Robert Pearson said. “They’ve blended in well with the team. Sometimes when you have young talent you get resentment [by the older swimmers], but we didn’t have any of that.”

A first year class as numerous and talented is something few other teams around the MIAC can boast, and the Scots are hoping they can boost their prospects at Conference as well. Last year, they took seventh at the meet.

In regards to his hopes for both the men and women at conference, Pearson said, “I just want to swim our best and let the chips fall where they may.” He singled out the teams’ willingness to work together as their greatest strength, citing instances where teammates helped each other with technique after practice. He said they “clicked” even better than teams of past years. The athletes on both teams agree, pointing to examples such as the men’s team motto of “seal the deal” and the women’s team’s “Banana Cheer,” in which “we all head up on the side of the pool and go bananas.”

Looking ahead to the Conference Championships, Feb. 19-21 at the University of Minnesota, the Scots will look to improve upon their 200 freestyle relay enough to set a school record in the event. They are currently about two seconds off. They also hope to improve on last year’s eighth place finish as a team. With the combination of the hard work they put in earlier in the season — “all you do over J-term is eat, sleep, swim, because you don’t have the energy to do anything else”, said Young — and a nice relaxing taper in its training, the team is confident it can achieve these objectives.