PLCs Bring Out the Best in Raider Swimmers

Brad Oastler

Last week was one of the most successful weekends in Colgate history for the Raider men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams. Although the Navy men and Bucknell women took home the trophies at the three-day championships, the real story was the performances of the Raiders. Nearly every Colgate swimmer posted personal bests in each of their events, especially the quartet of first-years who have been making history all season long.

Day one of the competition began last Thursday, and the records began to come crashing down within the first minutes. The women opened the Championships with a school, meet and Patriot League record in the 200m freestyle relay, trouncing the competition by nearly 1.5 seconds. First-years Ashley Bottger, Emily Murphy, Beverly Walker and senior co-captain Chrissy Zaika won the event. All four – including Zaika, who red-shirted her junior year due to shoulder injuries – are expected to return next year to defend their title.

In the 500m free, first-year Lisa Marchi and senior co-captain Amy Cole took second and eighth place, respectively, giving the women a strong start. Shortly afterward, Murphy won the 200 IM and Colgate amassed 45 points by placing first, fourth and eighth in the 50m free, with Zaika securing the win and posting an NCAA B-cut time of 23.50. Meanwhile, seniors Emily McAuliff and Jen Rodgers placed third and fifth in the three-meter board. The women closed out the night with a lead of two points, after winning the last relay of the day, the 400m medley.

The Colgate men were also in action, led by senior Marc Falkner, who grabbed sixth-place in the 200 IM with the third fastest time in Colgate history. Falkner also swam the breaststroke leg in the 400m medley relay, as the men finished sixth, with the fourth fastest time ever.

On the second day, the women extended their lead with a win in the 200m medley relay, in which the team set a varsity record. Later in the evening, Walker edged out Zaika for the win in the 100m butterfly, while Marchi returned from a strong first day to take second place in the 200m freestyle.

The Raiders earned their second NCAA B-cut when Murphy won the 100m breaststroke, and she then got right back in the pool for the 100m backstroke and won that event as well, securing a first-year and varsity record in the process. The evening closed for the women with their fourth consecutive relay win by the team of Bottger, Walker, Murphy and Marchi, who broke the league, meet and school records in the 800m free relay.

“There was an excitement in competing for Colgate that I’ve never felt before at any championship meet,” Walker said. “It was a completely new experience breaking varsity and league records.”

The men continued their strong performances on day two. Senior co-captain Levi Benson took fourth on Colgate’s all-time performers list in the 100m backstroke event, as he swam to a personal best in the finals, and he also led off the 200m medley relay that placed fifth on Colgate’s top-10 list.

Despite a valiant effort on the final day, Bucknell held off the Raider women, winning by 13.5 points – the closest the women have ever come to winning the championship meet. The Raider women concluded their record-breaking season with a total of 14 new varsity records at the championships, and wins in every relay.

Colgate dominated the 100m free, with Marchi, Zaika, Bottger and sophomore Allie Lenci taking first, third, fifth and eighth place, respectively, for a total of 61 points. Next, Murphy showed off her prowess by smoking the competition in the 200m breast, winning by more than four seconds. The consolation heat of the 200m breast was also packed with Raiders, as sophomore Magdalena Mango, senior Kim Hayes and first-year Jessica Johnson all scored points.

The men ended their meet with solid performances across the board, despite a sixth place finish overall. First-year distance specialist Rick McMahon took 13th in the mile, while Falkner broke an 11-year-old school record in the 200m breast with a time of 2:05.43, which placed him fifth in the meet. Junior breast and fly specialist Dave Hill took 10th in the 200m fly, ahead of sophomore Zach Whitman who placed 12th. The men ended on a great note, shattering the varsity record in the 400m free relay. Benson, senior James Silas, junior Zach Grobengieser and first-year George Bennitt posted the top Colgate performance ever in the event with a time of 3:07.18.

Bennitt called it the “highlight of the season,” while Benson noted that, “Everyone gave 110 percent. It was the perfect way to bow out of the sport.”

The superb weekend was capped by first-year Emily Murphy, who was named the Patriot League female Rookie of the Meet.

“It is an honor to be named one of the best freshmen swimmers in the Patriot League, especially at a meet that included so many fast and talented swimmers,” Murphy said.

For all members of the team, however, each win was the result of a full team effort. “Everyone on the team has a piece of every record and win,” head swimming coach Steven Jungbluth said. “This season has been one of the most difficult and successful seasons for our team,” Silas said. “However, together we persevered, trained hard and had an unbelievable championship meet. I cannot be more proud of the team.”

Thus, while neither team came away with a win, the records, personal bests and individual wins were a team effort of which both teams are proud and satisfied, and will serve to motivate the teams as they look to break into the top spot next season.