The men’s and women’s swim and dive teams have spent a long time dwelling near the bottom of the NESCAC standings, and second-year Head Coach Peter Solomon has been working hard since his arrival last fall to change that.
The 2013-14 season is Solomon’s first following a full recruiting cycle, and he hopes that this will be the start of a new era in Wesleyan swimming.
“We have to create this championship culture in the program,” Solomon said. “We’ve been at the bottom of the heap for a while now, and we need to make people believe that this formula works.”
In order to do so, the teams have received an influx of young talent on the team and are consistently recruiting more.
The men’s team in particular is a young squad, with seven freshmen and five sophomores making up two-thirds of the team.
Having lost seven female swimmers to graduation, Solomon highlighted the importance of consistent leadership from his upperclassmen. He emphasized that teammates must lead effectively to help first-year swimmers transition into more prominent roles.
“When you have a top-heavy team, they lead, the others follow,” he said. “This year, it puts more of an onus on our few upperclassmen to lead by example. We have one male senior, and three females, so it falls on them to take charge and show everyone the road.”
Solomon has high hopes for his team this year. Coming off an eighth-place finish at NESCACs last year, the women’s team is looking to improve after a strong offseason. The team has its sights set on topping Bowdoin and Connecticut College, the seventh and sixth teams in the league respectively, by year’s end.
Angela Slevin ’15 returns having broken seven school records, three individual and four relays, in her second year at Wes. Solomon is excited about the possibilities for Slevin this season and praises her work ethic immensely.
“[Slevin] did doubles on her own this fall, so she’s taken her swimming to a whole new level,” he said.
Slevin swam a 4:41 400-yard individual medley at a scrimmage last weekend.
“Her times are sitting at top seven in the country, and she hasn’t even started; that’s during a scrimmage,” Solomon said. “She’s definitely in a whole new world.”
The coach is remarkably excited about the other members of the record-breaking relay team: returning breaststroker Roxy Capron ’14 and backstroker Alyssa Savarino ’14.
“With three of those four legs returning, we really hope to send a relay to Nationals, in either the 200 or 400,” Solomon said. “That relay team missed qualifying by five tenths of a second.”
The Cards will also see some reinforcements for the post-Christmas resumption of their season, when Rachel Hirsch ’15 returns from a semester abroad in France.
“Roxy [Capron] and Rachel [Hirsch] are two of the best breaststrokers in the conference and put up national qualifying times, and we hope to improve those times even more this season,” Solomon said.
The medley relay team, consisting of Slevin, Hirsch, and Capron, made National “B” cuts last year in its events, which gave it a chance to qualify for Nationals. Based on that year’s algorithm, however, the team was not selected, though in other years it may have qualified.
Capron is coming off an impressive season in which she earned the Birds’ only NESCAC Performer of the Week award and was also the only swimmer to earn an all-NESCAC selection in the 100 breaststroke.
The squad also has three divers, the most it has had in four years. Because many teams don’t have divers, Solomon said that these women will help win some automatic points in meets, which can be crucial.
On the men’s side, Solomon has set a goal of improving on last year’s 10th-place finish.
“[Finishing 10th last year] was a moral victory, and we were only nine points behind ninth place, so there are some teams that we have our focus on,” the former Middlebury coach said. “Best-case scenario, we hope we can make it into the top eight.”
The Cardinals brought in plenty of fresh talent on the men’s side. Perhaps the most important addition is transfer Jimmy Gaston ’15.
“He’s a local kid, a transfer from UC-Santa Barbara, who had shoulder issues,” Solomon said. “He’s showing huge potential. These first few practices have proved he’s a great addition to the team.”
Solomon added that many men’s swimmers come into the season behind in terms of endurance because they’ve been playing water polo instead of training with the team. That won’t be an issue for Gaston, nor will it be for Billy Hepner ’16, whom the coach is particularly excited to watch swim this year.
“Hepner showed up in great shape, one of our top breaststrokers and [medley swimmers],” Solomon said. “He has that focus and commitment; he did a great job through the summer and fall and things are shaping up for him really nicely.”
He’s also excited to see some of the first years come to the team to perform. Two freshman swimmers in particular, Zach Carfi ’17 and Spencer Daus-Haberle ’17, stood out for their commitment to training. They both swim the breaststroke and individual medley.
“They’re both training hard, and have great attitudes, swimming the same strokes,” Solomon said.
The men’s team does not have any divers on the team, so the advantage that the women have is the precise disadvantage the men have; this automatically precludes the men from earning any points in either of the two diving events, 1-meter and 3-meter.
The Cardinals’ first meet is Saturday, Nov. 16 at Brandeis University. The Cards beat the Judges last year in their first-ever competition together.