Sports, University News

Aquatics teams move beyond the bubble

By
Assistant Sports Editor
The new pool is 56 meters long and nine meters deep, and it holds one million gallons of water.

The new pool is 56 meters long and nine meters deep, and it holds one million gallons of water.

For the swimming and diving and water polo teams, the benefits of the new swimming facility go far beyond the water. The opening of the Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center ushers in a new era for Brown athletics, offering stability to aquatic teams that have endured four years of uncertainty. Though it finally provides the teams with a permanent facility to train, host home meets and entice recruits, its unveiling comes too late for many of the outgoing athletes to experience.

Farewell to the ‘toxic waste dump’

When the Smith Swim Center was demolished to make room for the Aquatics Center, Brown was faced with a choice – put its aquatics programs on hiatus until the pool’s completion, or invest a significant amount of money to erect a temporary pool. The University chose the latter, and for the last four years, Brown’s water sports have practiced and trained in a $3.8 million temporary aquatics bubble located behind the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center. 

“Not a lot of schools would do what Brown did,” said Peter Brown, head coach of the men’s and women’s swimming teams. “Five years ago, we were at a teetering point where we didn’t know what they would do with the program. It was a huge financial commitment on President Simmons’s part to keep our program alive.”

Despite the University’s well-intentioned efforts, the temporary bubble failed to gain popularity among athletes.

“No one liked the bubble,” said diver Jon Feldman ’12. “By the end of its stint on Brown’s campus, it was a toxic waste dump. I’m excited it’s going away so no one ever has to deal with it again.”

The athletes claim the bubble lacked a number of  elements to be considered an adequate facility – proper circulation, locker rooms, diving equipment and sufficient space.

“The bubble is terrible training-wise,” said James McNamara ’14 of men’s water polo. “It was so small we couldn’t have two practices going on at the same time.”

Getting out of the bubble to train will literally be a breath of fresh air for the Bears. All three teams were suffering from the health effects of the poor air circulation in the bubble, said former women’s swimming captain Allyson Schumacher ’12.

“The air quality was really bad,” she said. “There were times when it was hard to train for two hours.”

But the new facility has a state-of-the-art air circulation system and an atmosphere that men’s water polo captain Toby Espinosa ’12 said “makes you feel like you are swimming outside.”

From ‘renting’ to owning

For the athletes who will spend countless hours practicing and lifting weights in the Aquatics Center, it will soon become somewhat of a second home. But for the four years during which the pool was under construction, none of the teams were able to host home meets or matches in the temporary bubble due to space confines and limited spectator accommodations. As a result, every match-up meant going on the road.

“We were traveling every single weekend during season,” McNamara said. “It makes it really hard for academics and to stay in the student life at Brown.”

Due to the temporary bubble’s lack of adequate equipment, the diving team was forced to bus 45 minutes to University of Massachusetts Dartmouth on a daily basis to take advantage of the school’s diving boards.

“We’ve been renting for four years, but now we have a home,” Brown said. “When we were in the temporary facility, we lost a part of our identity and what we’re about.”

“When you’re a football team without a football field, it’s hard to get motivated,” Feldman said. “Having this wonderful facility helps boost your morale, and you remember that you’re swimming for something important.”

The pool’s opening comes after the conclusion of the swimming and diving season, but in the coming weeks the water polo program will host the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Eastern Championships and its Senior Games in the new facility.

“Home court advantage is huge for water polo,” McNamara said. “A pool is very engrossing, so when a visiting team is in your locker room and your pool, it’s a completely different ball game.”

‘Upswing’ in recruiting

With one of the finest pools in the Northeast located on campus, the process of wooing top recruits to campus has become a much easier task.

“We’ve had a huge upswing,” McNamara said. “We’re getting recruits we’ve never gotten before coming just to check out the pool.”

In prior years, with the Aquatics Center still under construction and the teams relegated to the temporary bubble, it was difficult to sell recruits on simply the promise of a new facility. 

“There was no pool to show them, which is the centerpiece of a swimming and diving program,” Feldman said.

“Being told you have to swim in a temporary pool for two years is likely going to decrease your interest,” said swimmer Tommy Glenn ’14, an All-America honorable mention this past season. “But if you know you have a pool that is going to produce faster times in practice and in meets, that’s something else.”

Moving forward, water polo Head Coach Felix Mercado expressed concerns about potential recruits simply being attracted to the new facility instead of the other benefits Brown has to offer.

“How can you not be impressed by the scoreboard, the spectator seating or our impressive locker rooms?” Mercado asked. “It’s a good added bonus, but I hope it doesn’t become the deciding factor. It’s important for me to remind these recruits that Brown is a very special place, and they need to be sure that they are choosing the school for the right reasons.”

‘Bittersweet’ emotions

For the outgoing seniors on the aquatic teams, the opening of the new facility comes after or at the tail end of their Brown careers. The swimming and diving teams, as well as the men’s water polo squad, have both concluded their seasons, so the outgoing seniors will never have the opportunity to experience a home meet on campus. The women’s water polo team (19-14) will have the chance to have its annual senior game in the new pool April 22 against Hartwick, something captain Samantha Ryu ’12 said has made her feel “disbelief that it’s actually happening.”

“I think the first thing that comes to mind is that I’m very fortunate,” Ryu said. “It’s been a long time coming and getting the chance to play in front of your friends and at a home pool is exciting.”

Many of the swimming and diving seniors were recruited to Brown believing that the pool would be completed prior to their final year, only to see the date of the project’s opening pushed back due to economic and construction-related concerns.

“The expectation was obviously that it would be open by junior or senior year
,” Feldman said. “That was the most disappointing part. It wasn’t that they were lying – it was just that they had no idea what the economic future would be like any more than we did.”

As the end of their careers drew closer, the seniors on the swimming and diving teams came to terms with the fact that they would never experience a home meet.

“We are going to be the generation of swimmers and divers shaped by having a temporary facility,” Feldman said. “No one else at Brown can say that they lived through the bubble like we did for four years. It shaped the athletes that we became. We knew a lot more about overcoming adverse conditions than other teams did, and I think that made us better varsity athletes in the end.”

Though the younger athletes understand the emotions of their outgoing teammates, they also know that the new Aquatics Center is going to benefit the programs for years to come.

“Bittersweet is definitely the main descriptor,” Glenn said. “Bitter because (the seniors) only get in after the season, but sweet because they can see that our program is on the upswing and things are getting better.”

- With additional reporting by Madeleine Wenstrup