By Tori Rodgers
Men and women of the swimming and diving team competed February 12-15 in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference / Mountain East Conference Swimming & Diving Championships in high energy week of back to back meets.
Malone, as a part of the GMAC, instituted this joint conference with the MEC three years ago, explained Russ Hunt, head swimming and diving coach of six years.
“About half of the GMAC schools have swimming so our championship would have been relatively a small championship,” Hunt said. “In order to create a more exciting event with more competition… we partnered with the MEC who was in a similarly situated position.”
These championships are the end goal for the athletes; it’s the final and most important meet of the season that allows the swimmers and divers to display all of their hard work.
Practice starts when fall semester does, with two-a-days in the pool and weight room, or just in the pool. As there are significantly fewer divers, they practice alongside other colleges and high schools.
“Swimming is a sport where you’re building your performance capacities over the course of the season,” Hunt said. “They start at 5:30 in the morning in August… all the way until championships… We’re trying to peak [their] bodies for the championship weekend and that’s a whole lot of weeks and months to get to that point.”
Malone hosted as usual in the CT Branin Natatorium, run by Canton City Schools. The conference prelims began each day at 10AM, with the top 24 swimmers moving on to the evenings’ finals.
Abby Reynolds, a junior business administration and sports management double major, has been swimming seriously since she was 12 and made it to finals for all seven of her events.
The final day was the most successful for Reynolds and the team as a whole, seeing several conference champions. Senior Nick Wertz won the 1650 Freestyle, junior Denise Quinten won the 100 Freestyle, and the women’s relay team of Quentin, Reynolds and freshmen Kinsey Knoch and Macy Williams won the 400 Freestyle Relay and broke the school record yet again.
“A lot of student athletes were able to get involved and get some best times,” Hunt said. “They did really, really well this weekend.”
“Each day was super fun, the energy was high,” Reynolds said. “We all support each other so much so the whole team was super excited; it wasn’t just the individuals [that were excited when they won].”
“It’s been a pleasure watching our young squad develop and it really did culminate at this conference championship,” Hunt said. “You get to watch all the work that goes into the last six months [and see] these young swimmers… grow into the championship performers that they were this weekend.”
Both Malone teams placed 3rd place overall, of 13 women’s teams and of 9 men’s teams. “Our depth really shone through and carried us to those 3rd place finishes,” Hunt said. “A real contribution from everyone on the roster is the only reason that that happens.”
It’s mentally draining for the athletes to have back to back meets and still conserve themselves for the rest of the week, yet they handle it well. “[I was] trying to stay positive and just being like ‘This is for fun’,” Reynolds said. “This really just comes down to [doing it] for fun and do[ing] your best.”
Despite the stress, Reynolds has enjoyed herself throughout the season and championships. “It makes it less hard when your coach is super open and fun and doesn’t put a lot of pressure on you,” Reynolds said. “He just wants everybody to do their best and to work hard.”
However, sometimes obstacles are unavoidable. “Our biggest challenge every year is going to be injury and illness hitting us at the wrong time,” Hunt said. “It really sucks if you get hurt or you’re injured when your whole season is kind of planned around this one championship event… [But] I really am proud of the student athletes for how they handled [it]… and kept their eyes forward.”
Dominic Mariano, a junior youth ministry and educational ministries double major, is familiar with such challenges. After diving throughout high school and his freshman season, he faced a mental block on the last day of the 2018 conference.
Mariano decided to just go for it instead of giving in and hit the water hard, flat on his back. He soon started coughing up blood in the locker room and was confirmed that he had a concussion.
“I found out that I actually tore my esophagus,” Mariano said. “When I hit, I was holding my breath and I hit so hard that the air in my lungs didn’t know where to go and so it just came back up into my threat and expanded.”
It was six months before he could bring himself to get near a pool again. It took being a counselor at a summer camp and the insistence of the kids to finally get back in. “It was good; I needed that,” Mariano said.
To get back on a diving board, however, took two years. It wasn’t until three weeks prior to this year’s championships that he agreed to dive with a friend for fun and was then asked to join practices. Mariano eventually agreed to compete alongside the team.
“I missed it a lot,” Mariano said. “I was a little bit nervous, but I just went out there and had fun… I guess it’s just muscle memory, like getting back on a bike. I was able to do everything I [could] two years ago.”
At this year’s conference, Mariano placed 3rd out of 3 in the men’s 1-meter dive, with Emily Schmidt taking 2nd place in the women’s. Though Mariano didn’t win, he still got points for the team and won with his personal return.
“It felt so good to come out of that water and just know that, not only did I conquer my fear, but I just claimed my own victory,” Mariano said. “I enjoyed every second of it. I am so thankful for the team and for the coaches, for the encouragement, laughter and fun that they were able to put into it.”