Sports

Separate teams, new coaching staffs highlight changes for swimming and diving

Both women’s and men’s teams jump out to flying starts against preliminary competition

By
Staff Writer
Friday, December 5, 2014

Despite splitting into separate teams and gaining two new head coaches and a crop of first-years who have yet to learn the ropes, the formerly co-ed men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams have their eyes set on Ivy League championships.

The men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams have faced a wave of changes over the last several months. After the retirement of longtime coach Peter Brown, the co-ed program has split into separate men’s and women’s teams. Despite the separation, both the women’s and men’s teams remain focused on a shared season goal — to improve upon last year’s sixth and seventh respective finishes in the Ivy League championship.

Led by new Head Coach Kate Kovenock and an entirely new coaching staff, the women’s team is off to a solid start this year with two dual meet victories. The ladies kicked off the season with a Nov. 7 home meet against Northeastern, winning 136-107.

At the meet, Elly Vitek ’17 triumphed in both the 500- and 1,000-yard freestyle events, and team captains Kate Dillione ’15 and Gina Matsumoto ’16 claimed the 200 free and 200 fly, respectively. Aja Grande ’18 starred at the short distances in her first collegiate meet, winning the 50 yard free. Amanda Molinelli ’13 led Brown divers with the Bear’s best score of the afternoon, 251.56, in the three-meter event.

The following day, the Bears were back in action, this time narrowly edging out UMass Amherst 151-149. Dillione again captured the 200 free victory and set five Joseph R. Rogers, Jr. Pool records. Grande claimed the 100 breast title, and Caroline Vexler ’17 and Matsumoto took one-two in the 200 fly.

Kovenock said she is excited by the early success of the team. “We’ve seen some pretty outstanding performances,” she said.

In her first year at the helm, Kovenock said she has focused on individualizing the training, tailoring to the needs of each team member. She has also increased race pace and intensity interval training in practice and placed a greater emphasis on weight room strength and conditioning.

Dillione said splitting the teams has had a positive impact on the competitors.

“The pros definitely outweigh the cons. For the guys and girls, it is great that we now have an individual coach who can focus on the 28 of us rather than one person trying to watch over 50 people,” she said. Though she admits that the move was difficult, she said she believes the team has responded well. Since Kovenock did not arrive until the middle of September, Dillione said during the summer “it was hard to keep the team focused on swimming.”

The women return to action this weekend for the Brown Invitational Dec. 5-7 at the Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center.

Kovenock is anticipating some personal bests, but also sees this meet as an important gauge of training thus far. “More than anything, this is my first chance to see this team with a little bit of rest … and where they are when they face very good competition within the Ivy League,” she said.

Though much of this semester has been a big “getting-to-know-you period,” Kovenock said, “the team has really stepped up. They are willing to take on quite a bit more work and expectations just day-to-day. I’ve been very pleased with how they have stepped up to the challenge this year and I expect that to continue.”

In her first year, Kovenock is already looking ahead to the future of the program. “We want to lay the groundwork for a culture of excellence, a culture that aspires to more. … There is no reason why we should not be fighting it out at the top end of the Ivy League.”

The men’s team faces similar challenges, as it is also in the midst of adjusting to a new coaching staff. The men’s captains Brian Barr ’15, Billy Rosenberg ’15, Ryan Saenger ’16 and Alex Pascal ’15 have worked hard to unify the team, and the squad is optimistic, Barr said.

“This weekend is the official mark for a new era in Brown swimming. In recent years, we have built a new pool, almost doubled the size of our mens team, hired an enthusiastic and experienced coaching staff and have developed a team consisting of many highly competitive swimmers and divers. Brown swimming and diving is looking nowhere but uphill,” Barr said.

After a comfortable 173-125 victory against UMass, the men are also off to a strong start. Riley Springman ’18 made a splash in his collegiate debut, shattering a long-standing UMass pool record in the 200 fly. Jonathon Schlafer ’17 led the divers with a 248.40 victory in the three-meter event.

Barr said he expects to see additional “breakout swims” amongst his teammates this weekend when the men compete in the Brown Invitational. Cory Mayfield ’16, Brown’s 500 free record holder, said this weekend “will be the real deal.”

Head Coach Chris Ip said he is content with the progress of the team in his short tenure so far, adding that he believes the team has maintained strong fitness throughout the coaching transition. “Kate and I came in so late. School had already started,” he said. “But I was very pleased to see a group of self-directed guys. They were doing things on their own, staying in shape.”

The team took a major hit with the graduation of Tommy Glenn ’14, an All-Ivy butterfly specialist who swept the 100 and 200 fly at the last three Ivy championship meets. But Ip said he hopes the freshmen will be able to “fill in the holes” left by the graduated seniors, adding that he looks forward to the weekend as an indicator for how the newcomers will fare in heftier competition. “This weekend we will see how quickly the freshmen can fill these shoes,” he said.

Ip has also emphasized individualized training. “My philosophy is to treat them as equals and like they are elite athletes, and work together to achieve our goals and move up in the conference,” he said.

Jeffrey Strausser ’15 said the team has adjusted well to Ip’s training. Strausser said Ip has increased training in terms of morning workouts and competitive spirit. “It’s nice to have more intensity,” he added. Though at this point in the season, the Bears would usually have competed in at least three or four meets, Ip said he is confident that the men have time to prepare for championship season.

“This weekend will be a great snapshot of where we are this season. It’s a process. … We are looking to peak in February and March,” he said.