By George Tatoris
The men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams raced, leapt and swam through over 40 events apiece at the Metropolitan Conference Championships held during the weekend of Friday, Feb. 17.
For the men, it was a close meet, but they still had not accumulated enough points to outshine the Rowan University Profs.
No matter what place the Lions finished for the final event of the meet, the 400-yard freestyle relay, they could not topple the Profs unless the top team somehow fell to ninth or below in the final event of the weekend.
Despite the tremendous odds, the Lions still poured their all into the last race.
“Winning the last race of a championship meet as close as this one gives the team a huge mental boost heading to NCAAs,” men’s head coach Brian Bishop said. “That relay will probably be ranked in the top five at NCAAs, which sends a strong message to the rest of the country that we will be a force at the Championships.”
The team of sophomore Alexander Skoog and seniors Ryan Gajdzsiz, Andrew Nesbitt and Scott Vitabile nosed ahead of the quartet of Profs with a time of 2:59.94, over a minute faster than the Profs.
The effort earned the four Lions shots at nationals, although the team itself managed a second-place finish with 1396 points, 17.5 points behind the Profs. The Lions have won 18 of the last 23 Metropolitan Conference Championships, according to Bishop.
“This was one of the closest meets in conference history,” Bishop said. “The only one that was closer was in the early ’90s and we came out on top at that meet. It was thrilling to be a part of such an exciting meet. Great competition brings out great performances and we had many outstanding efforts by our team.”
The women’s team fought for a third-place finish at the meet, gathering a total of 933 points. The University of Bridgeport took first with 1098 points and the Profs were not far behind with 1086 points.
Working with a smaller squad than usual, members of the women’s team had to sign up for races they were not comfortable with, according to head coach Jennifer Harnett.
“One of the things that stood out most to me was some of the swimmers that swam in events they might not have been their first choice, but swam them because the team needed points in those events,” Harnett said.
This has been a common theme all year for the undersized squad. This weekend, junior Robin Lukens earned her team 12 points in the 1650-free, sophomore Laura Rippey switched from the 200-breast to the 200-fly for the better scoring opportunity and freshman Samantha Askin made the top heat in the finals of the 400-meter individual medley.
The men’s team had standout performances, as well. Strong races and dives on the first day of the meet propelled the Lions to a slim lead over the Profs. Gajdzsiz, Nesbitt and Vitabile were joined by senior Adam Coppola for a first-place finish with a time of 1:21.35 in the opening event, the 200-freestyle relay.
By the end of the second day, the Lions had a firm 20.5-point lead. Skoog won the 100-backstroke with a time of 50.04 seconds. The program record for that race is 49.56 seconds. Coppola took third in the same event with a time of 50.96 seconds, less than a second behind his teammate.
Gajdzsiz, Vitabile and freshman Harrison Yi earned the Lions points in the 200-free. Vitabile took second with a time of 1:39.33, Gajdzsiz took fifth at 1:40.89 and Yi took eighth with a time of 1:41.98.
Vitabile and Gajdzsiz finished in second and third place in the 100-free with times of 45.02 and 45.15 seconds, respectively. Junior Philip Binaco and Nesbitt were not far behind in sixth and seventh place, respectively. Binaco finished with a time of 46.46 and Nesbitt finished 46.67. The efforts of the four Lions qualified them for the championship finals.
The Lions performance earned several swimmers a spot at the NCAA regionals next week.
“Seniors Coppola and Nesbitt will be heading to NCAA’s for the first time along with rookie Yi,” Bishop said.
By the end of the third day, the Profs were on top despite the efforts of the Lions.
“Yes, we were disappointed that we finished second, but we accomplished our primary goal of qualifying a strong group for NCAAs,” Bishop said. “We’ve won our share of title, but we always want more.”
The women’s team’s third-place finish was made possible by the determination of the team. Sophomore Maddie Hynoski swam on an injured shoulder throughout the weekend, earning top times in several events.
“She worked through some shoulder injuries this whole season and had to kick most practices, so for her to have best times in three events is amazing,” Harnett said.
In the 100-fly, Hynoski finished fourth and earned the team 26 points with a time of 58.84 seconds. Hynoski also earned points in the 50-free and the 100-free.
Junior Debbie Meskin worked through some issues with her back to earn points. In the 400-individual medley, Meskin hit the wall fourth at 4:49.73, earning her team 26 points. In the 200-fly, she finished fifth with a time of 2:13.09.
“Her determination is what got her through this weekend,” Harnett said.
Rippey, Askin and sophomore Courtney Thompson gave the Lions even more points in the 200-fly, finishing ninth in 2:17.23, 12th in 2:20.43 and 15th in 2:24.08, respectively.
Senior Brenna Strollo finished her career with a fourth-place finish in the 200-back, an event the senior has struggled with in the past, according to Harnett.
Sophomore Gabi Denicola set the tone for the final stretch of events on Sunday with a personal best of 17:54.08 in the 1650-free, earning her fifth place. Denicola was not satisfied with her times in the 500-free and 200-free earlier that weekend, so her personal best finish in the 1650-free was a great way to finish the weekend.
The women’s diving team also showed spirit in both the 1-meter and 3-meter events. Senior Sarah Grassi earned first in the 1-meter with a score of 467.80 and second in the 3-meter with a score of 401.10.
Junior Hannah Raymond took second runner-up in the 1-meter with a score of 432.65.
“Sarah was in second place going into finals on the 1-meter board and upped her game at the finals to finish first,” Harnett said. “It was a great way to finish her career.”
Harnett believes the season has showcased the Lions teamwork.
“That is what this team has been about this season — teamwork,” Harnett said. “Our squad size was down this year, so everyone had to pick up some of the missing pieces at dual meets. That carried through into Championships. I’m am very proud of this team. They worked hard as a team, and they succeeded as a team.”