November 8, 2011

SWIMMING | Lucia Sees Room for Growth in 2011-12

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It is that time of year again, when the most talented of Cornell swimmers and divers hit the pool to represent the Red against other Ivies. This weekend the Red travels to Cambridge, Mass. to compete against Harvard and Dartmouth in an Ancient Eight showdown on Saturday.

The men’s team hits the pool in the morning, begins the 2011-12 campaign after finishing third in the conference last year (6-3, 4-3 Ivy League). The women’s team is set to swim in the afternoon, looking to rebound from a difficult 2010-11 season (1-7, 0-8).

Head coach Joe Lucia, entering his 25th year as swimming coach — the third year of his second stint at the helm of both the men’s and women’s programs — has high hopes that the Red will be competitive in the tough Ivy League.

“We always have a great attitude about competing,” Lucia said. “We race hard and do things the right way, but we will have our hands full because the league is very tight. I think our men will be competitive this year and our women are making good strides for improvements.”

Lucia added that he does not think Cornell is ready to defeat Harvard or Princeton, who have dominated the Ivies for the past 35 years, but leaves the door open for the possibility of an upset against Yale or Dartmouth. The head coach emphasized that the Red’s senior leadership will need to carry both teams throughout the season.

“Any team is dependent on where their senior leadership is,” he said. “I think we have strong leadership and hopefully the team can respond to that.”

There are seven seniors on the men’s squad and four on the women’s side. The men’s captains include seniors Kevin Brazitis and James Keady, while the women feature seniors Emily Dean, Saddie Ellison and Chiara Spinazzola at the helm.

Lucia also pointed out the strong sophomore and freshman classes, including stand out rookies such as Meredith Drummond and Michael Reynolds.

“I think we have good depth on both sides,” Lucia added. “On the women’s side, the sophomore class really stood out last year and had a great [Ivy League] championship. On the men’s side, I do not see any glaring weaknesses, since we have a great freshman class adding to our depth.” Brazitis agreed with his coach’s assessment of the men’s roster.

“We are going to lean on our depth this year because we have a big team,” he said. “I am really expecting the sophomores to contribute a lot and the freshmen to step up.”

Ellison and Dean also echoed Lucia’s sentiments regarding the outlook for the women’s squad this season.

“We really have a strong sophomore class that stepped up last year and hopefully will be guiding the freshmen this year,” Ellison said. “Our freshmen really round us out and give us a lot of depth. They have been doing fantastic in practices and we expect a lot from them.”

“It is going to be a good year,” Dean added. “The freshman class definitely fills in a lot gaps we had from last year. They have a lot of energy and are excited to swim. I love to see the team spirit and enthusiasm.”

All three captains do not expect much when it comes to their dual meet against the Crimson. Instead, both sides are focusing their efforts on the Green.

“We are not really worried about Harvard,” Brazitis said. “Realistically, Dartmouth is a more competitive meet, but if we can get some good races against Harvard that would be a plus as well.”

“We are pretty evenly matched against Dartmouth,” Dean noted. “I think this year it is a huge competition and we want to win it. It is going to be exciting and it could go down to the last couple events, where our freshmen could contribute.”

Lucia and Ellison also further emphasized the importance of the diving team in dual meets. Divers compete in two of the 16 events including the one- and three-meter boards.

According to Lucia, the squad’s top divers include senior Mary-Kate Lynch, sophomore Manita Herlitz-Ferguson, junior Jonathan Zollo, sophomore Phillip Truong and freshmen Thomas Hallowell.

While swimming and diving may be individual sports, the team atmosphere adds excitement and the ability to contribute towards a collective goal. Dean and Ellison said that their favorite event was the 200 medley relay, where four swimmers each swim 50 meters of a different stroke. Dean, Ellison, Spinazzola and junior Jessie Holley set the pool record at Dartmouth, defeated Harvard and came in second in the Ivy championships last year in this event.

Brazitis echoed the excitement toward a more team-oriented arrangement.

“Sure, you are always willing to swim fast and get some good individual times,” he said. “But in the long run it is about scoring points for your team and making sure your team wins the meet.”

Original Author: Scott Eckl