Like a broken record, swimmers best themselves at States

Sophomore Julia Cunningham was dominant, breaking her own school record at states last week. Cunningham looks to build on her performance at nationals in Shenandoah, Texas from March 18-21. Photo By: Vassar College Athletics
Sophomore Julia Cunningham was dominant, breaking her own school record at states last week. Cunningham looks to build on her performance at nationals in Shenandoah, Texas from March 18-21. Photo By: Vassar College Athletics
Sophomore Julia Cunningham was dominant, breaking her own school record at states last week. Cunningham looks to build on her performance at nationals in Shenandoah, Texas from March 18-21. Photo By: Vassar College Athletics

The Vassar men and women’s swimming and diving teams have performed tremendously in what has certainly been one of their most successful seasons in recent years. They trained long and hard and set their sights high as a team. After recently returning from most of the team’s final meet of the season, States in Rochester, N.Y. this past weekend, many of the players and coaches reflected on the success and strength of the team throughout the year.

Coach Lisl Prater-lee discussed how hard the team worked and prepared for such a busy end to their season. “On Sunday, January 4, our first day of practice for second semester, I noted to the team that we had 6 weeks left of the season. With 3 weeks of winter training before classes started we had considerable training time and a lot of time together. During the early part of that time, we traveled to San Diego and trained at San Diego State.” Senior Olivia Harries spoke of the Brewer’s practices, explaining, “Everyone performed phenomenally at meets, but I was most impressed by the momentum and enthusiasm that we had during practices.” The Brewer’s hard work paid off as it has yielded tremendous success.

Prater-Lee described the training regimen, “Through much of January we swim trained four hours a day and lifted twice per week with Coach Cam. At the point that classes resumed, we were two weeks out from leaving for UNYSCSA championships.”

On the women’s side, after defeating Skidmore, Bard, Eastern Connecticut State and even managing to edge out Trinity this season, the team was still able to deliver strong performances, shattering several personal and school records at States.

Co-captain senior Lizzie Balter elaborated on her team’s success, “Obviously, States is our biggest meet of the year and we saw a lot of great swims there, as we always do. However, what really stands out about the season is the spirit and positive, cohesive team dynamic we were able to maintain for the entire 19 weeks. Often times we’ll come into the season really strong and then fade a little bit. This year, coming off a record-fast 2014 season, we had a lot of forward momentum coming in and were able to maintain that excitement through the entirety of this season.”

As Balter stated, the team’s performances at States were something to be proud of after maintaining such strong results throughout such a lengthy season. Harries broke a 20-year Vassar College swimming record in the 500 freestyle in addition to topping her personal best time with a time of 5:08:30.

Harries said of her performance, “I definitely surprised myself by [doing] the times that I did at States, but since the records that I broke were already my own, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. Breaking the 500 record was definitely the highlight.” Harries was not alone, juniors Milee Nelson and Marie Schmidt swam season times of 5:17.42 and 5:18.10 respectively. The 200 yard medley team of Nelson, junior Anna Kuo, sophomore Julia Cunningham, and Balter topped Vassar’s school record and finished first in the B final with at time of 1:51:71. Kuo also finished first in the 200 individual medley besting her previously set personal best, as did Balter in the 50 free.

Senior Kelley Wilkinson, competed for the final time as a Brewer on the second day of the NCAA Region III Diving Championships at Springfield College. Wilkinson took 24th in the 11-dive 3-meter event, finishing with a score of 336.00. In the one-meter 11-dive event she posted a mark of 390.35, also finishing 24th.

Prater-lee spoke of how rewarding it was for her to witness the success of her seniors, “I find it really rewarding to see how far our seniors have come with the program, what they have accomplished as student-athletes and the brilliant young mentors they have become. Seniors have seen the team change over time and they have been an important part of that change.”

Perhaps one of the most exciting performances of the season was by sophomore Julia Cunningham, who posted a time of 2:03:56, breaking her previous school record in the 200 yard butterfly and allowing her to come in second in the event at States. Her performances qualified her for a bid to the 2015 DIII NCAA Championships March 18-21 in Shenandoah, Texas. Cunningham will swim the 200 yard butterfly and the 400 yard individual medley relay at the championships, and she will be one of five Brewers, and only the third swimmer, to qualify for the event.

Sophomore Anthony Walker said of teammate Cunningham, “Since Julia Cunningham swims both of my events and the women swim first, I get to watch her races from behind the blocks about 5 minutes before my own races. I definitely feed off her energy. She’s super inspirational all round and watching her swim that NCAA qualifying time in finals made me especially excited to get up for my own race.”

On the Men’s side, there was equal success throughout the season with the besting of Bard, Skidmore and Trinity College. The men also were able to break multiple school records and personal bests,

Walker said of his team’s performance this season, “We put together some great dual meets, winning three and making another two very close. Although we finished in the same place at our final meet as last year, we scored a lot more points than last year. Plus, we had a ton of individual season and lifetime bests which is always fantastic to see.”

In addition to having success as a team, Walker has had individual success at the State meet as well, topping his own school record in the 100 butterfly, finishing at a career best of 51.47 and in the 200 butterfly with a time of 1.54.33. Walker says of his performance, “I just barely beat my 100 fly record by a tenth of a second the day before so it felt really amazing when I crushed my 200 time from last year by over two and a half seconds. I would call that my proudest personal achievement of the year—I felt really accomplished when all that fly training finally paid off.”

Walker was not alone in his individual accomplishments. Junior Greg Cristina, senior Chuck Herrmann and sophomore Ian Quinn all finished with personal bests at States, as did the Brewer 400 medley relay squad of Chistina, Walker, Quinn and senior Luc Amodio. The four broke Vassar’s program’s record with a time of 3:30:67. The same men’s team took eighth in the 200 freestyle relay, finishing with a time of 1:27:46.

Other than Cunningham who will compete at the NCAA tournament in March, the Brewers are finished competing for the year. As a team with such strong camaraderie and leadership, it is easy to see a positive future ahead for the Vassar men and women’s swimming and diving Teams.

Prater-lee said, “I’m really proud of the tenacity and resilience that the group had. We were out there to win; everyone sensed it and figured out how to contribute to the bigger whole. If a win wasn’t in the cards that day, no doubt we would put our best efforts forward. When we lost a close meet, I sensed that we all shared in that loss. As coaches we sometimes think about losses more than we do victories. I could tell that team members were using especially close losses as motivation to improve.”

The team certainly displayed their ability to be a cohesive unit, and support group for one another. Walker added, “After states I felt a lot of energy, especially from the underclassmen who are already getting excited for next year. I think one thing that could really help us improve is to get in the weight room and the water this spring and this summer. That way we can come into next year with a good starting point. If we can make that happen, it will definitely pay off.”

For Balter who has just completed her last season at Vassar, she leaves the Brewers with a positive experience and proud memories, “The thing I am most proud of is the little family Zoe (co-captain) and I were able to foster. The family we cultivated this season had a spirit all its own, and allowed us to reach unforeseeable heights and win unknowable victories. Leading our team of amazing, strong women through one of the most impressive seasons Vassar swimming and diving has had to date is definitely one of the most rewarding and shaping experiences I’ve ever had.”

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