November 29, 2006

Seniors Helping Men’s Swimmers to Perfect Record

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“We play a lot of grab-ass in the shower.”

According to senior Braden Orr, that’s how the senior class of the men’s swimming and diving team has become such a tight-knit group over years of competing for the Red.

The group of eight — which head coach Joe Lucia has called the strongest, largest, most dedicated senior class in recent memory — is a rarity for collegiate swimming programs with rigorous standards of athletic and academic performance.

“This class is blessed with so many talented guys with the right attitude and the willingness to train hard,” said senior Mike Balint. “In swimming, athletes tend to get weeded out even if they’re really determined to stick it out. The depth of the group really shows how great this class is.”

Cornell’s own ancient eight have led the team to a pristine 5-0 record this season. Co-captains Brad Newman, a back and fly specialist, and Mike Smit, an All-American in the 200 free, lead the class, while Dave McKechnie and Rich Bowen take care of business in the breaststroke events. Balint and Orr tear up the lanes as freestyle sprinters. Luke Baer and Trevor Fontes round out the diverse class as divers.

The octet started out as a group of five freshmen before gaining Fontes, Orr and Baer as sophomores. According to Bowen and McKechnie, the time spent in the pool gives the team a common bond.

“Some teams offer three or four practice times and athletes pick two to go to, but we’re all at the same practices twice a day,” Bowen said.

“Swim teams are usually close,” McKechnie said. “Everyone’s going through the same grueling workout.”

While the divers often compete at different times from the swimmers, Fontes said that team unity is not affected.

“We practice with the women’s divers, so we know them really well too,” Fontes said. “The swimmers have separate practices, but we’re still close.”

“We say hi, when we remember their names,” McKechnie said.

Outside Teagle, the seniors and their teammates often hang out together, and many have lived in the same dorms, apartments and fraternities since they were freshmen.

“Mike [Smit] and I lived in the same townhouse our first year,” Newman said. “Dave practically lived there. He slept in a closet next to the water heater.”

The seniors’ energy and unity with their teammates carries over into the electric atmosphere of the Red’s home meets. The team’s pre-meet ritual chants, shouted by a pack of men high on adrenaline, are all but drowned out by bleachers full of the Red’s rowdy fans.

Apart from the chants, the seniors have kept several pre-meet traditions.

“Before a meet we’ll always put up a sign with the name of the school we’re racing against and launch kickboards at it,” Bowen said.

“We used to go to breakfast at the Greek House before meets until it closed down,” McKechnie said. “We don’t know where to go now.”

Greek House or no Greek House, whatever the seniors have been doing to make their final year swimming for the Red the best possible, it has been working. After defeating its two toughest EISL opponents, Harvard and Princeton, the Red has the potential to be the first men’s swim team in school history to have a perfect record.

“The perfect record is definitely something that’s in our heads,” Smit said. “But really we’ve been practicing the same and staying focused on our goals.”

“We want to crack into the top-25 teams in the nation,” McKechnie said. “We’ll get a bump after beating Princeton. That’d be a cool way to end off, with an undefeated season. We keep improving every year and our senior year should be the best.”