The NESCAC Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships took place over the weekend, ending on a frigid Valentine’s Day. After a two week tapering process, the Cardinals reached the goal of finishing eighth in the conference that captain Liyan Yao ’16 had set for them earlier this week. Many swimmers recorded personal bests this weekend (some even broke school records) while tussling with the best that the NESCAC has to offer in top-seeded Williams, close rivals Tufts, and the rest of a competitive field.
While not strictly placing better than they did last year at the championships, the team could celebrate an improvement in times and scores. Last year, they trailed the rival Jumbos with a 217 point deficit, while this year that deficit decreased to 177. The 40 points gained by the Cardinals is astounding given that the team has a much smaller roster than most of its competitors. With the odds against them, the Cardinals pushed through to maintain eighth place and finished a cut above of last year’s performance with a final score of 543.
The mantra for this season was to keep improving at every meet, and the Cardinals demonstrated that with an explosive start to the weekend.
“The first relay of the meet, the 200 Free, was a perfect way to start off the meet,” captain Martha Smith ’17 said. “The school record was broken in our first event, with Sophia Antonio [’19], Kylie Han [’19], Zoe Kerrich [’18], and Serena Zalkowitz [’17]. This got the energy level so high and we fed off that for the rest of the weekend.”
With the aid of newcomers Han and Antonio, returning swimmers Zalkowitz and Kerrich broke the school record that they set with a different relay team last year. Their final time of 1:37.20 bested last year’s by a half a second. Although it was only a half-second improvement, it was a strong statement. The entire Cardinal team felt the resonance of that performance throughout the remainder of the competition.
For Kerrich, the story could’ve ended at the 200 Free with an amazing school record to write home about, but she was far from finished. With a spirit that embodied that of this year’s Cardinals, she continued to battle and would not stop at just one school record. The sophomore broke school records in the 50 Fly, 50 Free, 100 Free, 200 Breast, 100 IM, 200 Free Relay, and 200 Medley Relay. With her performance in the 200 Breaststroke, a varsity record 2:21.96, Kerrich earned NCAA “B” consideration.
“It was such a great meet,” Smith said, “Our team has improved so much since my freshman year it is unbelievable. I am so proud of everyone and look forward for what this team has to come.”
Proud she should be, with performances like Lauren Conte ’18’s noteworthy time drop in the 1650 Free. She shaved 1:21 off of her most recent performance in the event for a final time of 18:04.91, which was good for a 15th place finish. Additionally, Julia Dietz ’19 had a personal best in the 50 Back with a time of 27:86. Diver Emily Kessler ’18 had a spectacular showing, placing fifth with a score of 375.30 in the one meter event. Facing the tough competition of Williams and Bowdoin divers, this was an excellent finish for the Cardinal diver. Devon Cooper ’19 also performed well in the three meter event, boasting a score of 368.90, good enough for seventh amongst some of the finest divers in the ’CAC.
Continuing the string of awesome events was the 200 Medley relay comprised of Maela Whitcomb ’19, Luisa Chan ’18, Kerrich, and Zalkowitz. They placed seventh overall in their event with a time of 1:46.96, .22 seconds shy of knocking sixth place Jumbos. Eager to share her teammates successes, Smith neglected to mention her season bests in the 500 Free and 400 IM. Chan garnered a marvelous eighth place in the 50 Breast with a time of 30.26, a personal best.
For Yao, the NESCACs were bittersweet.
“Our women’s team has placed eighth for the last couple of years, but this is the closest in points we have come to Tufts,” she said. “I’m very excited and hopeful to see where the team heads as I leave this program and officially become a retired swimmer.”
She concluded her collegiate career with 23rd in the 400 Individual Medley and was a crucial part of the 800 Freestyle relay team that finished 10th with fellow teammates Whitcomb, Conte, and Han.
The major takeaway from this weekend is that Wesleyan Women’s Swim and Dive has come a lengthy way. With the widespread leadership of an experienced senior squad and guidance from Coach Peter Solomon, the Redbirds look to foster the momentum from this weekend as they move forward. The Wesleyan faithful cannot wait to see what the future has in store for this talented, refined bunch after a weekend of exceeded goals and dismantled records.