The men’s and women’s swim and dive team are headed to the Upper New York State Collegiate Swimming Association Championship, or, simply, states. The Brewers will be competing against their usual Liberty League rivals, with the addition of the eight Empire Schools.
Steven Institute of Technology and Ithaca College are both Empire schools and consistently rank first and second at states. “Vassar tends to be in the middle of the pack but definitely pointed toward the upper end,” said Coach Prater-Lee.
The competition works differently from in-season meets. Each race has heats in the morning to qualify the final 24 swimmers. Qualifications are based on time, but the difference is that if a swimmer gets the ninth-best time in the morning, no matter how well they do in the evening, they can only get ninth place. This is a tactic to discourage a really good swimmer from holding back in the morning to conserve energy so they can then swim even faster in the evening.
The addition of the Empire schools to this competition adds a certain degree of unpredictability in regards to what the Brewers will be facing. “We’re a little more familiar with our LL opponents, and we’re familiar with where we are in relation to them but you throw in another eight schools and it gets a little murky,” said Coach Prater-Lee.
It’s only slightly murky, however, because on Monday, a sheet was posted that has every swimmer from each school’s times and events. This allows for a certain amount of planning and strategizing from the coaches, who can shuffle their swimmers around to hopefully maximize their team’s chance of success. The number of events that swimmers will compete in varies greatly. Some will be swimming in 14, while others will be in three. The former will be those swimming in both individual and relay events.
With such a big event coming up, the team has started “tapering,” which means they’re doing fewer yards and working more on technique in training. “What they’re doing now is building their races, through their skills. Which in some ways means less work because they’re getting more rest, but the level of expectation is higher as far as what they’re able to do,” said Prater-Lee.
Senior and captain Charles Herrmann wrote in an emailed statement, “Our last two weeks before states sees us back off on the amount of yardage we do so we can recover, while still having very intense practices. This gets us into amazing shape, so although a lot of us are tired, we are swimming very fast and are just about ready for states.”
Junior Gregory Cristina echoed the feelings of fatigue he’s experiencing as well, adding, “A handful of people on the team (men’s and women’s) are sick or have injuries. But through rest and working with the sports medicine trainers, they are slowly recuperating and able to dive back inro the pool during this crucial time in the season.”
Senior Olivia Harries is one such victim of sickness, battling pneumonia for the last few weeks. Despite her illness, Harries is excited to be going to states and ready to get back in the pool. “I’ve got my head in the right place and I’m ready to see what I can do. We have this saying, ‘last one fast one,’ and I’m not done yet. My focus right now is on getting in shape and having a great mile on Saturday night,” she wrote in an emailed statement.
Harries is mirroring the vigor that the rest of the team has. “The energy on the team is extremely high right now. Our tech-suits came in, we started our taper this past week, the men’s team is doing haircuts today; everybody is excited,” wrote Cristina. And Herrmann expressed the same sentiment; “The energy on the team is building quickly. When we got back on campus for intercession on January 3rd, we ended up swimming every day for the next three weeks, most of those days having either two or three practices…We are at that point where everyone is getting pumped about States and morale is very high.”
Last year, the team broke over half of the standing records, and there is a lot of excitement to have a repeat of that this year. “For me, and as a team, I would like to see us break even more records than last year and continue our team’s progress. Since I was a freshman, this team has improved drastically and has become closer than ever. It makes me both excited for my last states and proud to be on such an amazing team,” wrote Captain Herrmann.
While the team is very driven to beat the standing records, Coach Prater-Lee has her eyes set on some smaller, but no less important goals. “Hopefully all of them are going to earn personal bests. The more of those we can capture, the better off the team is and the more momentum we gain.”
Momentum is key at this competition, which will last for four days and require every swimmer to be at their peak at all times. “You go to a meet like this, and the races are made up of heats, so the slower swimmers will be in the first meets. We talk from the get go how the early heats set us up. It’s exciting to see your teammates get up there and go fast,” said Prater-Lee. Every member of the squad contributes to the energy and morale on the day.
Of course, there are some rivalries among the competing teams. Prater-Lee mentioned that she tells her swimmers, “If you see someone with a Skidmore hat, you’d better crush them.” No pressure there.
The Vassar team competed at the Skidmore Invitational last weekend. The men came first of the four schools present, boxing out the runner-up by more than one hundred points. The women came second, falling only twenty points short of the first spot. A victory like that can only fuel the already hot fire of the men’s team’s attitude, while the women will only want to work harder to take that number one spot.
“Everyone’s put in so much consistent effort over the last months and it’s definitely going to pay off, so as long as we stay focused, VCSD is going to have a stellar showing at States,” Harries wrote. The confidence is there. The work rate is there. The Brewers are going to make a statement at states this year.