By George Tatoris
The men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams travelled to Connecticut, the “Land of Steady Habits,” on Saturday, Oct. 22, to partake in a steady habit of their own — an annual meet against the Division II Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) Owls.The men’s team posted a clean 166-118 victory over the Owls while the women’s team lost by a slim margin of 147-137.
“It’s always a good rivalry with Southern Connecticut so it’s hard to lose to them but they had a good meet,” women’s head coach Jennifer Harnett said.
Despite the loss, both teams saw strong individual performances in this regular season opener.
Both the men’s and the women’s teams have been New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) champions since swimming was re-instated as a conference sport eight years ago after a 10-year gap. Before that, the men’s team held the title for an additional five years and the women’s team an additional four.
Four All-Americans on the men’s team will be returning this season — sophomore Alexander Skoog, junior Phil Binaco and seniors Ryan Gajdzisz and Scott Vitabile.
The women’s team placed first in the NJAC preseason coaches’ poll, but fell to fifth after this week’s close loss. The men’s team was voted second despite their long history of success, but head coach Brian Bishop said the poll did not affect the team’s outlook.
“Our focus is solely on the NCAA championships,” Bishop said. “Where we finish in the preseason NJAC poll has no bearing on the NCAA Championships.”
The men’s team did not show any signs of decay in Connecticut on Saturday.
The men’s 50-yard freestyle demonstrated the men’s team’s ability in dramatic fashion as the top three finished within one second of each other.
Senior Andrew Nesbitt took first place with a swift 21.81 seconds. Junior Adam Coppola was not far behind at 22.15 seconds. Both Lions outpaced Owl Tyler Vander Vos, who reached the wall at 22.38 seconds.
Nesbitt also placed first in the 100-yard freestyle at 47.56 seconds, while Vitabile finished just behind him at 47.82 seconds. Nesbitt wasn’t the only Lion to finish first in two events that Saturday.
Junior Chris O’Sullivan also conquered his Connecticut rivals in both the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke, clocking in times of 1:03.10 and 2:19.44, respectively.
Vitabile overcame the Owls in the 100-yard butterfly and the 200-yard freestyle. In both races, Vitabile was the only Lion in a pool full of Owls.
The fourth Lion to win two events was freshman Harrison Yi, who hit the wall in the 500- and 1000-yard freestyle at 4:52.08 and 10:03.84, respectively. The latter race was the longest race of the day.
The freshmen shined, according to Bishop, who said he was “very pleased” with their performance.
Yi, Nesbitt, Vitabile and Skoog teamed up to win the 400-yard relay with a combined time of 3:32.38.
Skoog also won the 200-yard backstroke with a time of 2:00.23. Sophomore Samuel Maquet was first to the wall in the 200-yard butterfly with a time of 1:59.94.
“I was very pleased with the intensity everyone had throughout the meet,” Bishop said. “SCSU is a tough team and any time you can win on the road is a bonus.”
The women’s team’s lost their bout, 147-137. Harnett said that, since it was the first meet of the season, “there (were) still some things we need to work on that (SCSU) were able to capitalize on.”
Although the women’s team lost overall, Saturday saw many personal successes for the team. Junior Marta Lawler won both of her individual events — she finished the 100-yard breaststroke at 1:11.39 and the 200-yard breaststroke with a time of 2:32.80.
Senior Brenna Strollo was first in the 200-yard backstroke with a time of 2:12.98, more than three seconds ahead of the nearest Owl.
Strollo partnered with juniors Emily Rothstein, Robin Lukens and Allison Huber to sink their competition in the 200-yard relay freestyle, combining for a time of 1:44.26. Rothstein was also runner up in the 100- and 200-yard freestyles, coming in at 56.22 and 2:02.95, respectively.
Sophomore Gabi Denicola was also a runner up in two races, finishing the 500-yard freestyle at 5:33.20 and the 1000-yard freestyle at 11:14.24.
The Lions snagged the first two spots in the 1-meter dive for a combined 13 points. Junior Hannah Raymond took first with a score of 252.16 and senior Sarah Grassi followed with 242.62 points, well ahead of the nearest SCSU diver’s 220.23 points. In spite of the loss, Harnett is excited for the season, and believes they can adapt.
“We have a smaller team than in past years, so we are just going to have to be more strategic in our lineups,” Harnett said. “But we have a young team that is very motivated and willing to step up.”
The Lions will return home to face NJAC rival Montclair State University at the Aquatic Center on Friday, Oct. 28, at 5 p.m.