January 26, 2007

M. Swimming Faces Columbia for Ivy League Title

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Just one more to go.

This afternoon the men’s and women’s swim teams will partake in their last league meets of the season. While the women (1-8) try to cap their season with a strong finish, the men (9-0) will try to make Cornell history, as the Columbia Lions remain the final obstacle to an undefeated season and the school’s first outright Ivy League dual meet championship.

Last weekend was a decisive victory for Cornell, defeating Colgate by a margin of nearly 50 points. The Red carried 13-of-14 events, winning the match before the final events had even been decided.

Men’s head coach Joe Lucia has been working at Cornell for 20 years, and yet, none of his teams have ever ended the season with a part of the dual-meet title in his tenure.

“To be honest with you, it feels great,” Lucia said. “We’ve had a lot of big meets this year, the meet with Harvard was big, so were the ones with Princeton and Yale. Those extremely talented and competitive opposing squads challenged the team, and ultimately made them stronger.”

[img_assist|nid=20940|title=Breathe in|desc=The men’s and women’s swimming teams will take on league rival Columbia in the last home meet of the season today.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=64]Tomorrow’s meet will also be difficult according to Lucia, as the men must battle the nerves and the pressure that comes from knowing what could be.

“[Harvard, Princeton and Yale] were exceptionally emotional and tough meets for us,” Lucia said. “They prepared us to swim in these types of situations. We are well prepared, and we will perform well. I’m totally confident [the team] is going to step up and swim, we are just trying to stay relaxed and loose.”

Lucia credits the success of this year’s team to their mental toughness and athletic ability.

“That’s one of the things about this program, we have very tough guys,” he said. “It comes down to every day practice. One thing I really believe in is challenging them every day. This is a physical sport, obviously. The ball is not going to bounce the wrong way. You are by yourself in the pool against the other guy.”

Lucia said that in practice, he always has his swimmers race against one another in the pool, something that did not change as the season went on and the victories continued to mount.

“We’ve never changed our approach to swimming,” he said. “We’ve had a plan and we did what we normally do. There’s a variety of skill levels on the team, but there’s always someone to race against,” he said. “They truly enjoy racing.”

Lucia said that ultimately he wants his team to enjoy the sport and “to take pride in winning.”

But even if the team does not win today, it will immediately begin to prepare — both mentally and physically — for the EISL championships, a little more than three weeks away.

“We talk a lot about how to handle adversity and overcome adversity,” Lucia said. “If we did lose, I’m confident we would rebound and do really well [at the championships.]”

The women’s team, too, are looking forward to the chance to prove themselves in the EISL championships in February.

The championships are both a team and individually oriented competition. It will give the women’s squad, which has struggled throughout the season, a chance to showcase its best swimmers’ talents.