Swarthmore’s swim team has been one of the College’s top athletic programs in recent years. The team’s 44 All-American awards since 1984 rank well ahead of any other Swarthmore program. With national recognition comes high expectations, making Swarthmore’s 5th place women’s finish and 6th place men’s finish in the Centennial Conference championships appear disappointing on the surface.
Upon closer inspection, however, Swarthmore’s performance at this weekend’s conference championships was one of its strongest of this season. As John Flaherty ’14 explained, “While our final standings are lower than we had expected, we all still consider the season a success.” Maggie Regan ’14 echoed Flaherty’s sentiments, adding, “The team performed extremely well as a whole and everyone should be proud of themselves for their accomplishments.”
Head coach Sue Davis emphasized the records the team set this weekend, suggesting that the team’s standing was primarily a result of especially strong competition in the conference. “I don’t care where we finish,” Davis said. The coach, who just finished her 41st season as head women’s swim coach (and 32nd as head men’s coach), highlighted the weekend’s accomplishments, saying that despite competing in an “extremely competitive conference, the women broke five college records, set two conference records and made one [NCAA Championships] B cut and the men broke nine college records and made three B cuts.
Of particular significance last weekend was that four swimmers turned in times that qualified them for B cuts. The distinction means that John Flaherty ’14, Liam Fitzstevens ’17, Andrew Steele ’17 and Supriya Davis ’15 are in contention for a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The three men achieved fast enough times to qualify for B cuts in the 100 fly, 400 IM and 200 back, while Davis qualified in the 100 and 200 fly.
Davis continued her dominance of the fly events, winning both for the third consecutive season. The junior pair of Davis and Kate Wiseman ’15 has largely carried the women’s team the past three years. Davis earned All-American honors last season and has shown no signs of slowing down. For her part, Wiseman has continued to set records in the highly competitive freestyle, breaking her own conference record in the 100 freestyle this weekend.
The duo spent the fall semester abroad, missing substantial training time as well as the first part of the team’s season. Davis called the women’s return “a highlight for the season.” Affectionately calling Wiseman “Kate the Great,” Sue Davis described Wiseman’s performance this season as “amazing.”
While the return of Davis and Wiseman boosted the women in the second half of the season, the high point of the men’s team’s season was its December 7th victory over Ursinus. Sue Davis called the meet a “season maker,” adding that it was “one of the best meets I have been to in my life at Swarthmore.” Swarthmore edged the Bears by the narrow margin of 109-96, in a meet that was not decided until the final race, the 200 freestyle. Davis lauded the men, who posted eleven personal best times that day, saying, “our guys just swam phenomenally.”
Another bright spot for the Garnet this season was the continued improvement of nearly all the team’s swimmers. Rodrigo Hernandez ’15, Michael McVerry ’16, Zach Gavin ’14, Josh Foster ’16, Julia Anderson ’15, Eliana Cohen ’17, Lily Tyson ’17, Zora Kosoff ’17, Sarah Eppley ’14, Margaret Luo ’16, Katie Warren ’15 and Anne Zhang ’17 all set personal bests at the championship meet. Although not all of these swimmers earned points for Swarthmore in meets this season, many of them will be relied on in coming years. Their improvement is a promising sign for the team’s future success, a point not lost on Davis, who said she was “so proud” of these swimmers.
As with any college team, Swarthmore will be forced to say goodbye to several impactful swimmers. For the men, Flaherty leads a graduating class that also includes Peter Ballen, Gavin, Henry Kietzman, Stan Le, Brian Nadel, Cyrus Nasseri and Fredrick Toohey. Davis singled out the All-Centennial Conference Honorable Mention Flaherty, calling him “the point mean on our successes over the last four years.” Reflecting on his career, Flaherty chose to focus on his teammates, saying that, “While my personal successes in the pool are certainly very important to me, in the long run the relationships I’ve formed with my teammates and the experiences we’ve had will produce the longest lasting memories.”
On the women’s side, Regan, Erin Lowe and Becky Teng highlight a five women graduating class that also includes Eppley and Laura Fitzgerald. Davis complimented Teng and Lowe on their versatility, saying that they “can swim any event and swim it well.”
Regan enjoyed a strong finale by placing second in the 200 breaststroke and earning All-Centennial Conference Honorable Mention honors. She called the performance “a great way to end my career,” adding that, “I was really proud of myself for not giving up and pushing through the hard times and swims.” While relishing her individual achievements, Regan struck a similar tone to Flaherty when speaking about her fondest memories of being on the team, saying, “It is hard to put into words the family that Swat swim has given me here at Swarthmore, but they are there alongside me whether I am dancing like a fool on the pool deck or crying because a race hasn’t gone the way I wanted it to.”
Fortunately, the team is laden with capable underclassmen poised to keep Swarthmore competitive in the absence of these swimmers. While several young Garnet swimmers enjoyed strong campaigns, the rookie seasons of Fitzstevens and Steele stood out. Fitzstevens’ blistering times have earned him the nickname “Johnny Backstroke,” and Flaherty believes that the two “are going to be among the all-time best in Swarthmore history.”
Davis added that several of the young swimmers “may have already made the jump” to being competitive in the conference. Along with Fitzstevens and Steele, Davis cited Steve Sekula ’17, Sam Tomlinson ’15 and Hernandez as candidates for significant contributions next season. Davis also has high expectations for women Emma Eppley ’17, Abigail Byrne ’17, Erica Flor ’17, Nikkia Miller ’16 and Eva Winter ’16. The Garnet will return six All-Centennial Conference swimmers, including Davis, Flor, Miller and Wiseman (First Team) and Fitzstevens and Steele (Honorable Mention).
With a strong core of returners, the swim program appears primed to remain strong, just as it has done in the wake of the departure of the other 40 senior classes Davis has waved goodbye to during her tenure. Describing how she manages to amass consistently strong teams, Davis says she has gotten “fortunate and lucky with recruiting.” More importantly, however, Davis tells opposing coaches that “we don’t get [the good swimmers], we make them.” Expectations remain high for Swarthmore swimming. As Davis put it, “Anybody who is not a graduating senior needs to be prepared to step up, lead and swim fast.”