Swimming aims to make waves at MIAC Championships

By Patrick Murphy

The 2011 MIAC Swimming and Diving Championships are being held this Thursday through Saturday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center in Minneapolis. After placing seventh and eighth at the 2010 MIAC Championships, respectively, the Macalester men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams head into these MIAC Championships with high expectations of moving up the standings and making some noise in the conference.

Compared to other teams in the conference, the Mac men’s and women’s teams have two of the smallest rosters at the Championships. While it certainly helps to have a deep roster, the Mac squads have as much intrigue among their ranks as any of the larger teams – if not more.

Among the swimmers on the women’s side is a former MIAC champion, a swimmer capable of three top-5 finishes, and a first-year diver who has already broken Mac diving records. Not to be outdone, the men’s team boasts a pair of the top seniors in the MIAC and a sophomore capable of scoring in a number of events. The questions isn’t whether the talent is there, but rather what kind of performances the Scots will be able to put together on the biggest stage of the season.

The women’s team might be one of the biggest question marks in the conference heading into the Championships. The team has several of the most talented swimmers in the MIAC; however, their performances have been inconsistent this season, making it difficult to project how the team will fare against the best swimmers in the conference this weekend.

Among these talented swimmers is Karoline Hart ’12. Hart was a MIAC breaststroke champion as a first-year, but had a disappointing sophomore campaign. After studying abroad this past fall and missing the winter break team training trip to Florida, Hart has struggled to regain her past form. However, with a swimmer of her talent, it would be a mistake to overlook her in the Championships. Without the pressure of a high seeding, Hart has a prime opportunity to surprise the competition at the U of M this weekend.

Grace Fleming ’12 is another talented junior swimmer for the Scots. Like Hart, Fleming missed the fall season, but she is showing signs of returning to top form. In the 2010 Championships, Fleming placed fourth in both the 500 and 1650-yard freestyles, as well as fifth in the 200-yard free. Fleming plans to shorten up and race in the 50, 100 and 200-yard freestyles at this year’s Championships. A duplication of past multi-event success by Fleming would be a huge boost to the overall team score.

In past seasons the women’s team essentially conceded in the diving events at meets due to a lack of competitive divers. Not anymore. Renee Jordan ’14 burst onto the scene this year, setting Macalester diving records as a first-year. Jordan won the 1-meter diving event at the Grinnell Invitational on her way to setting a school record. She plans to dive from both boards (seeded 3rd in the 1-meter, 4th in the 3-meter) as well as to take to the pool for several events this weekend. Coming off of back-to-back Alaskan state diving championships her junior and senior years in high school, Jordan has transitioned well to the heightened level of competition in college diving.

“This season has been an extreme challenge, both physically and mentally,” Jordan said. “I had never dived three-meter prior to Mac, and learning an 11+ dive list was not easy. Throwing a new dive three meters above the water is not intuitive. Not for anyone. Attempting any dive for the first time- off 1-meter or 3-meter – is intimidating.”

Despite the challenge, Jordan has performed like a experienced veteran throughout the season and is confident going against the top divers in the conference this weekend.

Heading into the conference Championships, the men’s team will turn to senior captains Nathan Young ’11 and Jeff Yamashita ’11 to lead the team throughout the three-day meet. Young and Yamashita have been four-year standouts for the Scots and are looking to end their Mac careers on a high note with big time performances this weekend. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to contribute, as they both plan to swim in ten different races apiece. Michael Phelps times two, anyone?

Young was the MIAC champion in both the 100 and 200-yard backstrokes as a first year and placed second in both his sophomore year before going abroad junior year. He plans to swim the 100-yard back, 50-yard free, and 100-yard breast at this year’s championships, in addition to four different relays. He is the top-seed in the 100-yard back and will look to reclaim the title that he won three years ago. Despite a hectic schedule at the Championships, Young expressed a calm veteran mindset going into the weekend.

“This year at MIAC I plan on enjoying myself,” Young said. “Previously, I was so stressed out that I barely had any fun. If I don’t swim fast, I’m not going to die. Life goes on after swimming, and life is good.”

Yamashita plans to swim in the 50 and 100-yard freestyles, 100-yard butterfly, as well as four different relay events. The senior out of Honolulu is seeded ninth in the 100-yard fly and will look for a big performance to give the team a boost.

“I plan to swim fast and leave everything in the water,” Yamashita said. “This is it.”

The swimming and diving season spans more than five months over both fall and spring semesters. The season no doubt takes a serious toll on the athletes as the winter weeks and months wear on, but don’t expect to see a bunch of beleaguered blue and orange-clad athletes looking to coast into the offseason at the University of Minnesota this weekend. With plenty of talent and leadership on both teams, anticipate the Scots to make their presence felt within the MIAC when it matters most.

“I want to remind the team that this is not something to be nervous about,” Young said. “Championships are exciting! I want to see the team relaxed and prepared.