By Jessica Ganga
While College students were keeping warm during the six-week long break, the men’s and women’s swimming teams were hard at work in the pool finishing up the last of their meets for the first half of the season. Both teams have one goal in mind: to make it to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championships.
Before the break began, the men’s and women’s teams competed in the Lions Invitational, a three-day trials and finals meet hosted by the College that spanned from Friday, Dec. 4, through Sunday, Dec. 6.
The men’s team, who at the time was ranked eighth in the nation, earned second place at the invitational, racking up 1,200 points with seven event wins. Along with the wins, the men’s team was able to post 12 NCAA Provisional Cuts. There were great performances all around, as the men had numerous top three finishes and took home the top spot in all five relays.
Junior Scott Vitabile, senior James Shangle and freshmen Alex Skoog and Logan Barnes were among many Lions who had notable performances, with all of the men posting NCAA Provisional Cut times. In the men’s 1,650-yard freestyle, Barnes swam into first with a Provisional Cut time of 16:10.59. Barnes also took home first place in the men’s 400-yard Individual Medley with a Provisional Cut time of 4:04.32. Shangle had an impressive day, not only winning both the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke events with Provisional Cut times of 55.07 and 2:00.85, but also breaking the College’s record for the 100-yard breaststoke that was previously set by Myles O’Connor in 2009.
The women’s team was equally successful in the Invitational, taking home first place with 1,126 points and, like the men, had dominating performances in the water. Sophomore Marta Lawler had a strong weekend. She finished the women’s 200-yard breaststroke with a time of 2:26.47, which was only four seconds faster than her second place opponent. Junior Brenna Strollo also had success, placing first in the 200-yard backstroke final with a time of 2:09.06.
According to head coach Jennifer Harnett, the team’s successes are also due to the chemistry between the women, something that has been a key for the entire season so far and that they continued to strengthen during the break.
“We trained really hard over winter break,” Harnett said. “Five weeks is a long time to be on campus practicing twice a day. We added in some team building session and activities this year to break things up and keep it fun.”
Along with the Invitational, the women competed in a meet against the Stevens Institute of Technology on Wednesday, Jan. 20. The women once again worked their hardest in the water, but came out of the meet with a 146-116 loss. Strollo had a busy meet, placing first in the 100- and 200-yard backstroke with times of 1:00.26 and 2:08.12, respectively.
The men also competed against Stevens and dominated the meet with a 158.5-102.5 win against the Ducks, but it was their win 163-124.5 against Johns Hopkins University on Wednesday, Jan. 6, that has helped the team remain motivated for the end of the season.
“The win against Hopkins is a great motivator and also provides direct feedback for all the hard work and preparation the team has put in,” head coach Brian Bishop said.
At the time of the meet, the Lions were ranked ninth in the NCAA and Hopkins was ranked fourth. Skoog got the first win of the meet for the Lions in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 53.70. Once again, Shangle had another impressive meet with a win in the 100-yard breaststroke with an NCAA B-cut time of 56.45.
The men’s team is looking ahead, keeping their goals of making it to the NCAA Championships in sight.
“Our whole season is designed to peak for the Conference Championships and then again for the NCAA Championships,” Bishop said. “Our focus at the conference is more on qualifying swimmers for NCAA’s than on winning the meet, however, winning the meet is certainly the next priority.”
Harnett has also kept the women motivated, with their goals being the Metropolitan Conference Championships (METS). With the to-be-determined meet against Rowan University, the NJAC champions will be determined and then the women will focus on preparation for the METS. Harnett has been really proud of all the hard work her swimmers have put into each meet and cannot wait to see where it will take them.
“To me, the most exciting thing this season has been watching the team chemistry grow into this bond that we have now,” Harnett said. “It has really helped keep the fun and the focus in practice and the energy and excitement at the meets. With that kind of commitment to each other and the program, I’m excited to see where it will bring them.”