Head Coach Peter Solomon took a risk in 2011 when he first came to Middletown on an interim basis. He left a stable, successful program at Middlebury in order to start the rebuilding process at Wesleyan. Over the past few seasons, the Cardinals’ foundation for talented, committed swimmers has been solidified, and the increasing skill level does not seem like it is going to be halted anytime soon.
Solomon’s squads are focused on dropping time from a meet-to-meet basis, and although the team swam well over winter break, the upcoming competitions will determine the validity of Solomon’s goal: to keep improving.
Right before the semester concluded, both the men’s and women’s teams battled it out with Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Tufts. The men had a tough time on the scoreboard, falling to the Goats and Jumbos, 231 to 88, and 224 to 93, respectively. Tufts downed the women as well, albeit in a much closer fashion, 172 to 126, but Wesleyan bounced back with a win over WPI, 166 to 149.
Brandon Pearson ’18 owned the diving board, taking first place in the three-meter event, while Ali Pourmaleki ’18 delivered with two fourth place-finishes in the 200-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke. The women got a big lift in the 200-yard medley relay, posting a one-two finish. Maela Whitcomb ’19, Charlotte Pitts ’18, Sophia Antonio ’19, and Serena Zalkowitz ’17 made up the “A” relay, and Luisa Chan ’18, Kylie Han ’19, Zoe Kerrich ’18, and Liyan Yao ’16 swam on the “B” relay.
While the rest of campus put their snow pants on, the swimmers kept their bathing suits on and headed to Puerto Rico for a training trip.
“The team enjoyed an incredible week in Puerto Rico,” Solomon wrote in an email to The Argus. “The swimmers trained in Dorado and the divers trained in Ponce. Facilities and accommodations were spectacular as was the weather (85 & sunny!). It is a unique time of the season for the team to focus on their training without the stresses of classes and homework, and the other distractions that they typically have to deal with during the academic semester. It is also a wonderful opportunity for the team to bond and for the first-year swimmers and divers to get to know their upperclassmen teammates.”
While exercising is the objective of the vacation, the team remembered to allocate some time toward fun activities.
“The team trains twice a day while in Puerto Rico with each training session lasting two hours,” Solomon wrote. “It isn’t all work though. We try to mix in a fun practice with a beach workout, which includes some challenges on the beach as well as on the hotel premise. The team is divided into four teams and competes in such events as charades, plank holding contest, tennis, mini-golf, basketball, volleyball, beach flags, and a swimming relay.”
After returning to Connecticut, both squads participated in a number of meets against conference foes. The men lost by just three points to Hamilton, and were upped by large margins against Williams and Connecticut College. The team then comfortably picked up its first two victories of season last weekend versus Colby and Trinity, but fell to Bowdoin in the four-team meet.
In the two wins, Spencer Tang ’18 took the top spot in the 200-yard backstroke and 100-yard butterfly. He also was part of a first place 200-yard medley relay, alongside Alex Kapphahn ’19, Jacques Bazile ’16, and Pourmaleki. Kapphahn also chimed in with a victory in the 100-yard freestyle, and Pourmaleki swam a lifetime best of 4:52.53 in the 500-yard freestyle.
Wesleyan will look to avenge the close loss to the Continentals in the conference meet.
“For Wesleyan to place ahead of Hamilton in the coming weeks at the NESCAC Championships, we will need a complete team effort,” Solomon wrote. “Both swimmers and divers will need to step up and have their best performances of the season. To place in finals and score points at the NESCAC Championships is very challenging in the most competitive Div. III conference in the country. We will need to outscore Hamilton in both individual and especially the relay events at NESCACs. Wesleyan will need to show up for all six sessions and be consistent the entire weekend to avenge our dual meet loss to Hamilton College this season.”
The women had the same winter session record as the men, which included beating a Mules side that defeated them a season ago.
Whitcomb produced victories in the 500-yard freestyle and 200-yard backstroke, while Chan added a first-place and sub 1:10 result in the 100-yard breaststroke. Emily Kessler ’18 finished second in the one-meter diving event with a score of 221.45.
Next weekend, the teams will face off against the U.S. Coast Guard Academy at home before beginning the taper process for NESCACs.
“The tapering schedules have been determined and shared with the team. For the next 3-4, the team will methodically decrease their work volume,” Solomon wrote. “There are typically six different taper schedules to accommodate sprinters, mid-distance, [and] distance swimmers. Things get pretty individualized at this part of the season to make sure that everyone gets the appropriate amount of rest based on their swimming events, their body type, as well as how broken down a swimmer is from their training this season. Taper schedules definitely fall into the ‘art of coaching’ category.”
For both the men and women, Solomon hopes that NESCACs are once again an improvement from the year prior.
“We want to move up at least one spot at the NESCAC Championship,” Solomon wrote. “Both teams finished up eighth out of the 11 NESCAC schools last season. While the women have finished eighth for the past 5 years, the men have slowly moved out of the NESCAC basement. For the two years prior to my first year at the helm, Wesleyan finished 11th, in 2011 and 2012. In 2015, the team jumped two spots up to 8th, moving ahead of Colby and Hamilton. To move up another notch in the NESCAC rankings, Wesleyan is hoping to beat Middlebury this year. To move up to seventh for the women’s team would require us to top Tufts University, who finished just ahead of Wesleyan last season…. It’ll take quite an effort on our women’s part to bump them down one spot this year, but that is our team’s goal in the coming weeks.”
Solomon also has the ambition that he will be able to send some of his swimmers to Nationals in Greensboro, N.C.
“Wesleyan has never qualified a relay to the national championships, which requires a team to have a time that is one of the top 16 performances in the country,” Solomon wrote. “That will be a milestone for the program when we finally achieve this team goal. Last season, Brandon Pearson qualified to compete in the NCAA Championships in the diving events. If all goes well, it would be great for Brandon and a few other teammates to get selected to compete at the NCAA Championships held in Greensboro, N.C. on March 16 to 19. We have a few individuals and relays who should achieve NCAA “B” consideration standards. To be selected in an individual event for the national championships, swimmers will typically have to have one of the fastest 18 times in the country in their particular event. Fingers are crossed that we will have an unprecedented number of swimmers and divers headed to the national championships this March.”