Swim and Dive make UNYSCSAs splashes

Junior Jonah Strand races through the 200 individual medley at the UNYSCSA Championships to beat the school record. After the championships, the teams will toss in the towel for the winter season. / Photo courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

In an intense four-day affair, both the men and women of Vassar College’s swimming and diving teams faced off against fierce competition in the Upper New York State Collegiate Swimming and Diving Association (UNYSCSA) Championships.

The meet was held at Ithaca College, where both teams resumed competition after a few weeks without any official races. The men concluded their season by finishing in 11th place out of 14 total teams, while the women snagged 10th.

The men’s first day of the UNYSCSAs started off with a bang, as junior Jonah Strand broke a Vassar school record in the 200 yard individual medley. Swimming a 1:57.51 in the preliminary round, Strand qualified for the “A” final round. There, he worked to improve his time, earning a 1:55.63 to finish in fourth. With this time, Strand broke the school record, held by himself, a time of 1:56.56 from last year’s championship round.

“It feels great to break school records, mainly because it means the hard work has finally paid off,” Strand recognized. “I was most pleased with breaking this record specifically, because I have been trying to do so since my freshman year.”

The team has been practicing for this exact scenario: reaching their potential and breaking many personal bests, season bests and school records during the championships. “The men knew we had the capacity to achieve such things during this meet,” reported Coach Lisl Prater-Lee, who heads both the male and female teams. “Many things lined up for us throughout the championships, and we were able to achieve a lot of the records we worked for.”

Due to both having a few weeks without formal competition and their strong determination, the swimmers have been putting in overtime work for weeks. “We have had double and triple practices every day for almost a month to prepare for these championships,” Strand relayed.

The 200 yard medley relay, swam by Strand, seniors Chris Cerutti and Anthony Walker, as well as freshman Harrison Taylor, marked a huge success for the Brewers. The team beat their collective season-best time, earning a 1:37.47 in the finals. Walker’s stretch of the race marked the fastest of all of the swimmers, clocking in at just 21.48.

Walker continued his impressive performances into the next day of competition. He proved to break a Vassar school record not just once, but twice. Walker earned a time of 51.03 in the 100 yard butterfly in the morning, beating the record, and then beat his own time in the afternoon by .01 second. Both times brought Walker into third place, an improvement from the sixth-place finishes he has earned during his past two seasons.

Many Brewers continued to take home personal, season and lifetime bests from the 200 yard freestyle, although none qualified for the finals in this category. Freshman Jordan Kalina skimmed multiple seconds off of his previous season-best of 1:54.26 with a time of 1:50.13. Meanwhile, fellow freshman Yoav Yaron slashed over 10 remarkable seconds off of his lifetime-best time. He earned a time of 1:59.83 to finish the race in less than two minutes for the first time in his life.

These feats persisted on into the third day of championships, where Walker began the day by finishing fifth in the 200 yard butterfly with a speedy 1:54.83, his season-best. Freshman Harrison Taylor swam a strong lifetime-best in the 200 yard fly, finishing in 27th overall, narrowly missing qualification for the evening finals.

“I am proud of what I accomplished this weekend,” Taylor shared. “I think the fly was my best race throughout the weekend. I have been working extremely hard on my butterfly all season, and to post a lifetime best was amazing.”

In his final collegiate 200 yard fly, Walker beat a school record of 1:54.33 with a time of 1:54.02, finishing in fifth place overall for the Brewers. Strand joined Walker in beating a second school record as well. He won a spot in the “A” finals with a time of 57.63 in the 100 yard breaststroke. Also in the 100 breaststroke, Cerutti broke his lifetime-best and clocked in for 22nd place. He earned a Liberty League weekly honor for this performance.

The fourth and final day of the finals saw Cerutti post a lifetime-best in the 100 yard backstroke, finishing 15th overall for the team. “It was definitely a highlight of my meet,” Cerutti recalled. “I was really excited that I could go for a lifetime best during my senior year. We prepared well and worked extremely hard. It definitely paid off.”

The Brewers are content with their overall standings from the meet, recalling the heaps of time, hard work and energy they put into their training. “We had a tough season with much illness and injury, but we were able to prepare well by pushing each other to be better mentally and physically,” reported junior Luke Morrison. “Continuing and building upon this mentality will be super important moving forward. It will really help push us forward.”

Despite missing one of their best swimmers, sophomore Sammy Stone, the women of Vassar swimming and diving thrived to perform as successfully as the men. The Brewers came out of the gates on fire in the first day of the finals.

Senior team captain and All-American Julia Cunningham eased her way into the “A” finals in the 200 yard individual medley. Sophomore Haley Schultz, who has been ridden with injury all season, came out during the 50 yard freestyle, just missing qualification for the finals with a personal best time of 25:87.

“Although I was injured for most of the season, I earned season-bests in most of my races,” shared Schultz. “As a breaststroker, I never had the opportunity to swim sprint freestyle, but was surprised and excited with the time that I earned in the freestyle on the first day.” Schultz continued to thrive, earning a faster split than any other “B” finalist in the breaststroke relays.

The second day of finals found the Brewers just as victorious as the first. In the 400 yard individual medley, Cunningham won an NCAA “B” cut time with a final time of 4:35.12. This brought her the fifth fastest time in the preliminaries. Junior Emily McDaniels finished with an extremely strong season-best of 5:02.49, compared to her previous 5:17.82, earning her a spot in the “C” finals.

“Last year I had issues with sickness and injury leading up to States, so I was really excited to get the chance to race this year,” McDaniels explained. “I’m very happy with how I swam this week.”

Senior Kayla Schwab just missed beating her season best of 5:20.72 in the 400 yard individual medley, with a time of 5:21.19. The Brewers earned the top seed in the “B” final, due to the strong efforts by Schultz, Cunningham, sophomore Megan Harrington and freshman Sarah Boese. The Brewers won the consolation final of the 400 yard medley relay, the last event of the second day, with a season best time of 4:05.96.

The team recovered from their second day of championships to push forward once again in the third day of UNYSCSAs. Cunningham earned the third-best time in the 200 yard butterfly preliminary swim. She also took third place in the finals at night, securing a mass of points for the Brewers. Cunningham listed 27th on the top NCAA listing for this race, giving her a possibility to be selected for the NCAA championships this Wednesday.

All the while, senior Zoe Kurtz broke her season-best time in the same race with a time of 2:41.63, skimming off almost six seconds from her time. Schultz had one of the most impressive feats of the day, earning a 1:09.58 in the 100 yard breaststroke, beating her previous personal best of 1:10.10 and earning a spot in the “B” finals.

On the final day of the championships, Schwab posted a personal-best 2:45.78 in the 200 yard breaststroke, while McDaniels tapped in a 2:45.02 to claim 33rd place and freshman Abigail Kirsch earned a season-best of 2:48.50. Junior Cali Corbett completed the 1650 yard freestyle in 18:49.04, missing her personal-best by less than two seconds. Schultz took second place in the “C” final, finishing 18th overall.

The Brewers on both swimming and diving teams have had impressive seasons full of determination and effort. While the journey for most seniors ends here, their contributions to their teams will not be forgotten. “I can’t begin to explain how much the team has shaped my life at Vassar,” Cerutti reflected. “I will never forget finishing my last race ever, seeing my entire team standing at the other end of the pool cheering me on and ending my career with a smile on my face. The unwavering dedication and loyalty of the team is something I will miss the most and will not ever forget.”

Cunningham may be able to continue her career for a while longer if she is chosen to compete in the NCAA championships. Cunningham is the holder of eight different school records individually and in relays at Vassar. She is also a two-time All-American and has qualified for the NCAAs in both 2015 and 2016.

“When I came into the team as a freshman, I already knew I had a strong support group,” Cunningham recalled. “The team has been more than a family. There were many amazing, record-breaking swims. There were a few disappointing swims. But our team was fully supportive through all the ups and downs. I have full confidence that the team will continue to improve once I graduate. I owe all of my success to the team that has surrounded me for the past four years.”

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