Swim teams take second at conference championships

“Harvest time” came this weekend for the College’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams. Both teams capped their seasons with second-place finishes at the Metropolitan Conference Championships (METs) at Rutgers University.

As the final meet of the season before the NCAA Championships, the METs serve as the primary qualifying meet for those wishing to advance to the national championship in Holland, Mich. on March 17-19.

Head coach Brian Bishop said his men were “fired up and ready” for this crescendo meet of their season, as the College has a rich history of dominance in the Metropolitan Conference. This is the third straight year the Lions have taken second to Southern Connecticut State. They had previously won nine consecutive titles between 1993 and 2002.

The women have won three conference championships under fourth-year head coach Jen Harnett. This year, they entered the meet with a young team and a 2-7 record, expecting stiff challenges from both Southern Connecticut State and Rowan University.

The primary concern for the men and women was on the clock, as they hoped to post times that would earn them a spot in the NCAA championships.

The Lions accomplished their goal throughout the three-day event as the Lions toppled records, met NCAA qualifying marks and walked away with a considerable stash of hardware.

The men’s biggest advantage lay in the strength of their relays. Day one of competition served as a showcase of talent in the relays, with three teams capturing conference titles and two advancing to the NCAA championships. The Lions showcased their talent in the first day of competition with the 400-medley relay team of junior Steve Swenson, freshman Liam Gallagher, senior Nick Steffanci and sophomore Kyle King. The team placed first with a time good to qualify them for an NCAA “A” cut for the national meet.

Junior Jeff Glenn, King, Steffanci and Gallagher placed first in the 200-free relay with another NCAA “B” qualifying mark.

The Lions also captured the 200-medley relay as Swenson and Steffanci teamed with freshman Kevin Oliver and Josh Forsman to handily top rival Southern Connecticut State by three seconds in the event.

Swenson came back later in the meet to win the 100-yard breaststroke, while teammate Steffanci posted a NCAA “B” qualifying mark and second-place finish in the 50 free.

Steffanci and the relay teams will be joined by senior Jack O’Donnell and freshman Chris Levin, who qualified in previous meets, in advancing seeding for the NCAA championships.

The women’s meet was highlighted by the record-breaking performances of junior Erin Stutz and freshman Ava Kiss. Stutz outswam her closest competition with an impressive six second lead in the 400-yard individual medley, setting both a school and conference record. Her time of 4:34.4 qualified her for an “A” cut at the NCAA championships. Kiss’ second-place finish in the 100-butterfly topped the school record she set earlier this fall and also made the “A” cut for the NCAA championships.

The “A” cut times of Stutz and Kiss guarantee them a seeding placement at the NCAA meet.

Kiss joined juniors Karen Bocian and Beth Hurley and fellow freshman Lauren Breslin in the 200-medley relay to post a NCAA “B” cut time and second-place finish for the team.

The 800-free relay team of sophomore Catherine Benigno, freshman Kristin Udicious and Kiss also finished second.

Sophomore diver Lee Swanson placed third in the three-meter event. The women were exhilarated to have concluded their season with so many high points. “We had some great swims,” senior captain Lauren Smith said. “Everyone was very supportive. Our team has had an awesome time this season, both in swimming and having fun together.”

Division II Southern Connecticut State led the team scoring on both the men and women’s sides. The men’s second-place tally of 669.5 points evidenced their dominance within the conference, as third-place Rowan University trailed behind by over 100 points. A final highlight for the Lions came when senior Chris Levin was named the 2005 Dick Krempecki Outstanding Male Senior Award for his performance in the sport this year.

The women’s team overcame an initial deficit to Rowan University to edge out the Profs by 30 points. “The girls really stayed mentally focused throughout the weekend,” Harnett said. “We came in as the underdogs, but the girls rose to the occasion with the tough competition and managed to beat Rowan for second place.”