Forget wading in the gorges. It’s winter now, and swimming at Cornell is all about the Red men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams. In their first dual meets of the 2006-07 season, the two squads will climb onto the starting blocks tomorrow in Providence, R.I., in hopes of making a splash with victories against Brown.
The men’s team aims to build on the momentum it gained from last year’s stellar season, which ended with an 8-2 overall, 6-2 Ivy record. With six wins at the EISL championships, 10 new school records, and 28 additional top-10 performances, the Red also enjoyed great success on the individual level.
Men’s head coach Joe Lucia is extremely confident in this year’s squad, particularly in the senior class. The roster, which boasts 23 swimmers and five divers, certainly has strength and depth, in addition to two knowledgeable and dedicated assistant coaches, Rick Gilbert and Robin Dyer.
[img_assist|nid=19583|title=aa|desc=The men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams will open their 2006-07 season on the road, taking on Brown in dual meet action this weekend.|link=popup|align=left|width=100|height=67]
“This is a special group,” Lucia said. “It’s very unusual to have a group of eight seniors who were all talented coming in as freshmen. They’ve made a big impact on the program over the last two or three years. They’re solid competitors, and they’ve maintained their progress. They’re all very dedicated, and do good things in and out of the pool. I’d say it’s the best and largest group of leaders I’ve ever been around.”
Senior co-captains Mike Smit and Brad Newman lead their class and the rest of the team. Last year Smit qualified for the NCAA championships in four freestyle and butterfly events and also became the first All-American from Cornell since 1986. Newman earned a key win in the 100 butterfly against Columbia last season and swung the momentum in the Red’s favor.
The senior class is also headed by sprint freestyle and backstroke specialist Mike Balint and breaststroke and IM swimmer Rich Bowen. Seniors Dave McKechnie, the two-time defending Ivy champion in the 100 breaststroke, and freestyle sprinter Braden Orr rank among the Red’s top swimmers. Divers Luke Baer and Trevor Fontes round out the multitalented senior class.
The men lost only two swimmers to graduation, but one of those men happens to be Stefano Caprara ’06, a member of the All-Ivy first team (400 medley relay), second team (200 medley relay, 200 backstroke and 400 freestyle relay). A talented body of underclassmen will have to fill the gaps and come up with the goods for a successful season.
“We always just want to keep improving on the success of past years,” Newman said. “The preseason started in September, so we’ve been training hard in the pool for at least a month, and everyone’s looking good. The upperclassmen have been telling the freshman what meets are like, and we’ve been having team meetings about core values. It’s an ongoing process, and we’re mentally prepared.”
Brown, led by senior IM specialist Michael O’Mara and junior freestyle distance swimmer Peter Volosin, has traditionally been a team that gives the men’s squad a close race. According to Lucia, however, the Red has a knack for getting on the bus and swimming well away from home.
Another possible advantage for the men’s team is the new NCAA meet format that will be implemented this season. The 16-event format, which is now identical to the format for the women’s meets, adds several 100-meter races.
“It adds more depth to the meet,” Lucia said. “It’s good to have a wider variety of events since some of our guys are better at the 100- and 200-meter races.”
The women’s team also hopes for a successful 2006-07 season. While he doesn’t have his heart set on finishing top in the Ivy League, head coach John Holohan has enumerated several goals for strengthening his squad.
“We’ve been working to establish a team culture and a positive attitude, and I think we’ve accomplished that” Holohan said. “Now our focus is to achieve lifetime best time, to get as many swimmers as we can into the Ivy championships, to get the first Cornell women’s swimmer to the NCAA championships and to be more competitive in the league.”
Five captains head the women’s team this season. Senior Kristin Conway, a three-year Ivy team member, is a fierce competitor in the backstroke and middle distance freestyle events. Seniors Sabrina Kwauk (breaststroke), Rebecca Nolan (back, free, IM) and Caitlin Burrows (dive) contribute years of experience to the squad. Junior Leah Tourtellotte (free and IM) also joins the seniors as a co-captain to provide the squad with strong leadership.
“We want to improve on the points of each meet, win more races and have a strong meet showing overall,” Conway said. “We’ve been working specifically on starts and turns, just touching the wall before the other girl.”
The women’s team lost a large group of strong swimmers and leaders to graduation, but the incoming freshman class is a set of 10 swimmers who have what it takes to swim well and improve the team. Also joining the Red this year is assistant coach Cory Berg, a 2006 graduate of UVA who now brings her expertise to the Cornell program.
Last year, Brown defeated the Red by a score of 222.5 to 75. This weekend the women hope to get quality race experience and to keep the Bears from scoring above 200 points.
Holohan admits that his team is still in a rebuilding phase, but he focuses positively on achieving success on various levels and creating a healthy environment for producing a better team each year.
“We know we’re thin this year,” Conway said. “But we just want to swim to the best of our abilities. We have an unbelievable group of girls who definitely have a passion and love for the sport. We’re really excited to see what we can do.”