While many students enjoy a month-long winter break, many of Vassar College’s athletes do not. Men and women’s swimming and diving was one of the teams whose break was shortened by a few weeks. Both teams have met and exceeded expectations so far this season. Records notwithstanding, there have been many positive signs for both programs.
“I think that our record does not quite reveal how much we have actually accomplished this season,” McKenzie Quinn ’14 of the women’s team noted. “We have grown so much individually and as a team since my freshman year and I think it shows more in the pool than it does in our number of wins and losses.” Zoe Fullerton ’15 added, “The season has gone very well compared to expectations. Our men’s team especially has been having an outstanding season and are enjoying the benefits of having a much larger team than last year. We have some great freshman talent and are also glad to have some of juniors back from a semester abroad and ready to contribute.”
As for the “outstanding season” for the men, Walter Gabriel ’17 said, “We have beaten some really good teams and been competitive with others whose team size almost doubles ours. Despite the .500 record, I think we have swam some great races and improved a great deal since September, which is always good. I believe we are satisfied with how the season has gone thus far.”
The aforementioned shortened winter break can be a deterrent to some teams, but neither the men nor women’s teams have allowed it to affect them. In fact, they have used it as an opportunity to build team chemistry and become closer as a group. Fullerton included, “This time is generally great for team bonding and although a few people may have been disgruntled to have such an early start, overall morale has been great.”
Quinn agreed, writing, “It is a great time for us to be together as a team without the other stresses that come from being student-athletes.” For Gabriel, being a freshman meant this was the first time he got to experience the intersession lifestyle. “Coming back to Vassar while everyone I know is still enjoying their break is certainly tough.
However, the adversity has helped the team grow closer as a unit. I would even go as far as calling this team my second family. Because of this bond, I believe that we are able to push each other to our limits in the hopes of swimming our fastest times ever when states roll around in February.”
This cohesiveness can only be strengthened while being surrounded by a desolate campus with only a few other teams. That, coupled with a trip to Florida, can bolster morale and allow a team to flourish down the stretch when it needs to be at its peak. The Florida trip was shortened by a couple days due to the Polar Vortex causing flight cancellations. Of the Florida tournament, Gabriel wrote, “It was tough: rainy, windy, and 50 degrees while also swimming at an outdoor pool can be very difficult. The competition was just as brutal as the elements, with much of the competition coming from the Division One level.”
“Despite this, we managed to put together some good races and numerous highlights, including five Vassar Brewers placing in their competitions.” Quinn said of the trip, “This year was our first time swimming in the International Swimming Hall of Fame pool in Fort Lauderdale. Despite the rain and cold weather, the swim meet was a lot of fun. There were a number of Division One and NESCAC teams competing, which could be a bit daunting for us. Our team persevered and Vassar definitely took advantage of the opportunity to race and to support each other, even in the freezing rain.”
Looking ahead, the stretch run looms for the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams. And that is unequivocally the most important time of the year for swimmers. As a result, in preparation, practices have been very tough. As Gabriel explains, “Swimming is a strange sport. Unlike other sports where you take it game by game looking forward to preparing for a specific opponent, all that matters in swimming is the big meet at the end of the year. Knowing that, a portion of training this time of year can get really tough in order to build up stamina and muscle mass in order to taper for the championship.”
On the issue of practices, Fullerton added in a emailed statement, “Practices have definitely been tough, we generally have quick turnovers and are in the water for around four hours a day during this time of year. It is definitely great training and better to be doing it now than during school, being back on campus really allows us to focus on swimming and make sure we are going into the final stretch of our season in tip-top shape.”
Quinn agrees: “This is the most intense part of our season. Our training schedules and practices have definitely been challenging but everything we do now only serves to make us better athletes and better teammates. Even though our bodies ache and we practically just swim, eat, sleep and repeat, it is still an exciting time. The work we put in now pays off through our taper and preparation for States.”
Both teams seem fully prepared to make strong pushes towards the end of the season as the year moves into its second month. The hard work the teams have put in over break should be on full display come time for States. Quinn said, “I think that our swimming for the next few weeks leading up to States in the end of February will undoubtedly exceed anyone’s expectations, even our own.”