The pressure is on for the 14 Maroons that qualified for the upcoming D-III Nationals. After a six-month-long season, everything comes down to this final meet for these select athletes, and the Maroons are hoping for their best finish ever.
With 57 people on the swim and dive squads, about one-fourth of the team qualified for Nationals—a great improvement over previous years. Swimmers had to either achieve individual NCAA cuts throughout the season or earn a spot on the relay teams that also qualified through their aggregate times. Divers earned their qualifying berths at the D-III Diving Zones a couple of weeks ago.
“This is the largest NCAA Championship team we’ve ever had,” head coach Jason Weber said. “Last year, we had 10 (six women, four men), so the nine qualifiers on the men’s side is by far our best. We have also qualified a total of four relays, with three on the men’s side, which is a first. In years past, we’ve only had individual qualifiers, and last year was the first time we had ever qualified a relay with our women’s 800 free relay. I think we have a good shot at scoring in all four of the relays we qualified in plus possibly two more on the men’s side.”
The surge in relay qualifiers can only bode well for the Maroons. Two years ago, the South Siders didn’t qualify for any relays, and now the team has four relays that are through to Nationals. With three of these relays on the men’s side, this is another marker of how much stronger the men’s team has gotten over the past year.
Another plus of having relays qualify is that relays score double the points of individual events, giving the Maroons a chance for their best team finish in history.
“We would like to improve upon our times and scores from conference champs and score in as many events as we can,” Weber said. “Last year, we finished 29th on the men’s side and 21st on the women’s. [We] would like to improve on both of those places, hopefully finishing in the top 20 on both.”
The men’s side has nine qualifiers, with seven swimmers and two divers. Veteran third-year Eric Hallman will lead the men’s side, competing in five events, including the 200 IM, 200 freestyle, 200 butterfly, and two relays. Second-year Andrew Angeles has had a very strong season too and will be swimming the 200 breaststroke, 100 breaststroke, and 50 freestyle. Fellow second-year Andrew Salomon will be in the 800 freestyle relay.
However, most of the men’s team is made up of fresh faces, with first-years Bryan Bunning, Thomas Meek, James Taylor, and Matthew Veldman all competing at Nationals. The team is rounded out with second-year divers Matthew Staab and Anthony Restaino, both of whom had impressive performances at Diving Zones.
On the women’s side, five swimmers made it through. Fourth-year Kathleen Taylor will finish out her last Nationals with the 1,650 freestyle, 200 freestyle, and the 800 freestyle relay. Second-year Elizabeth Millen will also have a busy schedule with the 500 freestyle, 1,650 freestyle, 200 freestyle, and 800 freestyle relay. Like the men’s team, the women’s team also features a host of fresh talent: First-years Karen Chu, Jenna Harris, and Ciara Hu are all swimming at Nationals.
With the number of underclassmen on the Nationals team, Weber has high hopes for the future of the team.
“We’re a young team with a lot of talent, and we’re only going to get better,” Weber said.
The NCAA D-III National Championships will take place in Shenandoah, Texas at the Conroe Natatorium on March 20–23.