This past Saturday, Dec. 3, both the men and women of Vassar’s swimming and diving program ventured to Rochester, NY to compete in the Liberty League Championships. The men held a constant ranking from their performance last year and finished in sixth place, while the women took home seventh place.
During the opening session on Friday, the men finished sixth out of nine teams after winning 167 points altogether. These points were accrued by a multitude of the Brewers. “Everyone had at least one solid performance of which they can be proud of,” shared Head Coach Lisl Prater-Lee, who has been leading the Brewers since 1993.
The men’s team started off by finishing in sixth place in the 200-yard freestyle relay, with participation from senior Anthony Walker, junior Jonah Strand, sophomore Ian LaBash and freshman Matthew Imiolek. “We were very happy about our 200-yard freestyle relay race,” relayed Strand. “We all finished close to our best splits in the relay.” This crew embodied much experience and talent from upperclassmen Walker and Strand.
Heading into the championships, Strand was ranked third in the Liberty League and 62nd in the nation for the 100-yard breaststroke, with a time of 59.49. Meanwhile, Walker was ranked in the top six places of three different swimming events. He was ranked third in the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 53.19 and second in the 200- yard butterfly with 1:58.73. A time of 2:02.13 in the individual medley ranked him sixth in the Liberty League.
Both Strand and Walker competed and earned success in the 200-yard individual medleys, finishing in the top 11 spots. Strand finished with a season best of 2:00.21, which earned sixth place and 24 points for the Brewers. A bit over two seconds behind Strand, Walker completed the race in 2:02.35. Coming in 11th place, he snagged 16 points for the team, which, combined with Strand’s, totaled up to 40 Vassar points.
In the individual medleys, freshman Jordan Kalina finished in 13th place with his best time on the season thus far, 5:01.40. A point from LaBash, who earned a time of 5:10.29, joined the 14 points earned from this performance. The Brewers next placed in sixth in the last relay of the session, the 400- yard medley, as senior Chris Cerutti, sophomore Lukas Harries, Strand and Walker finished with a time of 3:56.64. These impressive finishes accumulated major points for the squad and granted Vassar a sixth-place finish for day one.
Though the Vassar men had impressive performances in the following two sessions of the championships, they were unable to improve from their ranking of sixth. Nonetheless, the Brewers gave the meet their best efforts and completed incredible performances. “A three-session, timed finals meet in two days is a lot of swimming, particularly with warm-ups and warm-downs thrown in the midst,” conveyed Prater-Lee. “We were hoping to maintain momentum through the full two days, and we accomplished that.”
The team agreed with Prater-Lee about the importance of upholding their energy. Many of the returning competitors emphasized this goal after experiencing the intensity of the races in previous years. “Last year, we were all very tired during the last session, but we’ve learned how to be smarter with recovery,” noted Strand. “We’ve talked a lot about being sharper with our finishes. It is important to finish out the last 10 yards of our relays with strength, and to not let exhaustion get the best of us.”
Impressive performances from Cerutti and Walker highlighted the finishing day of the event. Walker came extremely close to taking first in the 200-yard medley relay with his season-best time of 1:57.30, but was just slightly beaten out by a competitor. Cerutti, Strand and LaBash joined him in order to earn the highest relay finish of the championships for the Brewers, with a collective time of 1:39.53. Cerutti attained impressive finishes in many of the second-day races, including ranking 15th in the 100-yard backstroke with a season-best time of 58.30, in addition to clinching 11th place in the 200-yard backstroke.
The Brewers were overall satisfied with the finish, in which the men won 500 points throughout 16 events. “The final meet had many more men than women athletes this year, so the level of competition the men faced was very strong,” explained Prater-Lee. “The men’s team is pretty happy with its sixth place finish.”
Meanwhile, the women of Vassar’s swimming and diving team maintained their ranking of seventh from the first session at Rochester, and finished the Liberty League Championships in seventh place as well. The team was determined to pull out fast times, despite issues they have faced this season so far. “Injury and illness have plagued our team this season, so we knew that the Liberty League Championships would be a team challenge,” Prater-Lee made clear. “However, we approached it well and still accomplished quite a bit this weekend as a more cohesive swim and dive program.”
Senior Julia Cunningham, a two-time All-American and current team captain, along with sophomore Sammy Stone, have been outstanding swimmers for the Brewers and played a significant role in Vassar’s success at the championships. Cunnigham and Stone accumulated a multitude of points for Vassar throughout this meet.
Right before entering the championships, Stone was ranked in the nation’s top 100 spots for both the 500-yard and 1000-yard freestyle events. Cunningham was designated as first seed in the Liberty League for both the 100-yard individual medley and the 100-yard butterfly, and second seed for the 400-yard individual medley and 200-yard butterfly.
Nevertheless, their teammates contributed significantly to their efforts as well. Regarding the team’s feats throughout the championships, Prater-Lee commented, “We had many women who scored individual and swam or dove new bests, which are all huge accomplishments.”
Freshman Laura Vidano, as well as sophomores Kael Ragnini and Meg Harrington, joined Stone in the first event for the Brewers. They won 44 points for Vassar in this 200-yard freestyle relay. Stone continued to perform remarkably, as she took third in the 500-yard freestyle, with her season-best time of 5:09.79.
The most impressive finish of the day followed, as Cunningham narrowly missed firstplace in the 200-yard individual medley. Despite coming in second, she was able to nab 28 points for her team with a time of 2:10.90, only two seconds over the school record that she set in 2015.
The women continued to push themselves throughout the two final sessions of the second day. Stone broke the existing record for the 1650- yard freestyle, the longest event that takes place during the championships, which has been standing since 2013. Additionally, Stone was an All-Liberty League performer in the 200-yard freestyle, in which she earned 28 points.
“This meet is a great opportunity to race against tough competition and see where we match up at this point in the season,” Stone stated. “I tried to view this meet as a change to try out different race strategies and to really have fun competing. The overwhelming excitement and support we have throughout each other makes swimming here so amazing.”
Cunningham did not disappoint in the final sessions of the meet, establishing herself as one of the highest point contributors in the competition. She accumulated a jaw-dropping 248 points for Vassar, finishing fifth in the 200-yard medley relay and swimming a cut time of 2:02.21. Her strength and ability helped her become named an All-Liberty League second-team in the 200-yard butterfly relay.
“While I went into last year’s championships without any real goals except to win my events, I came into this year with a different perspective,” Cunningham rationalized. “When my goal for last year didn’t work, I decided to enter the season with confidence that my training would pay off and to be excited to swim at each of our events.”
In the 100-yard breaststroke, sophomore Haley Schultz took seventh place, followed by senior Julia Wieczorek, who earned 11 points, junior Emily McDaniels in 20th and freshman Sarah Boese in 24th. Both McDaniels and senior Kayla Schwab earned points in the 200-yard breaststroke relay for the Brewers.
The women of Vassar finished the Liberty League Championships in seventh place with 576 points overall.
The women’s team will resume its competitive season along with the men’s swimming and diving team against Trinity College on Jan. 14.