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February 4, 2016

Minutemen win fifth-straight A-10 title

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

The Massachusetts men’s swimming and diving team captured its fifth-straight Atlantic 10 championship on Saturday.

“It feels good because we set our goals to do this,” UMass coach Russ Yarworth said.

In the beginning of the season, UMass’ coaches disregarded the notion of preseason rankings and said that the team’s high ranking had no bearing on how it would do at the A-10 tournament.

However, after the tournament concluded, the Minutemen took first place, just as the preseason rankings suggested, and the Minutewomen took third, also aligning themselves with their preseason rankings.

Not only is this the fifth-straight championship for the Minutemen, it is also their 13th conference title in the past 16 seasons of conference championship meets. The Minutemen have now won five A-10 championships in a row and have also won 10 out of the last 11 A-10s, with the only miscue in the last 11 years coming during the 2006 season.

Jason Cook, a junior and Amherst native, was named the Diver or the Year for the third-straight season after he captured the gold medal in the three-meter dive for the second year in a row. The men stole the show in this event by taking the top four spots, and placing another diver in seventh.

The women’s side had its fair share of top performances as well as sophomore Molly Elkins was named Diver of the Year.

Elkins took home the only gold medal for the Minutewomen in the one-meter dive. The team may not have won the tournament, or many gold medals, but they did set seven new school records and a number of personal bests in the pool.

“Keeping the kids focused and motivated and working hard through the season is a good challenge, they’re a good group to work with but when you reach your goal at the end of the year, and get a positive performance from them it feels great,” Yarworth said.

Minutewomen coach Bob Newcomb stressed the importance of that as he talked about the perfect meet, in which every swimmer in the lineup would perform at their best of their career.

The players aren’t the only ones receiving accolades. UMass coach Russ Yarworth was named the A-10 Coach of the Year and set a conference record for receiving the honor 12 times.

“That award belongs to the swimmers,” Yarworth said. “That is not my award, that is the swimmers award, they are the ones that earned it for me.”

In his previous 31 years, Yarworth and his UMass athletes have captured 20 titles, which include 12 A-10 championship victories. Under Yarworth, the Minutemen have won 246 dual meets, making up more than half of victories the program has recorded in its history.

Yarworth was not the only UMass coach to be recognized for the accomplishments of this season. The Minutemen and Minutewomen diving coach Mandy Hixon took home both the Men’s and Women’s Diving Coach of the Year awards for the third year in a row.

“I’m going to tell you that there is not a diving coach that I think is better in the country,” Yarworth said. “She motivates, she has a great understanding of diving, and she pushes them. She just has this knack of getting the most out of each kid.”

The Minutemen had a very balanced team, not only in what they were able to do in the pool, but also in what they are able to do with recruiting and gaining young talent. This season it was freshman Chris Inglis who took the gold medal in the 1650 freestyle, and set a school record in the process. The Mashpee, Mass. native also finished third place in the 200 fly and in doing so, earned the A-10 men’s Rookie of the Year honor.

“Chris is just a hard worker, and he just got in with the distance group and did everything I could have asked of him,” Yarworth said.

A full team effort paid off for the Minutemen as they earned seven individual gold medals and three relay gold medals during the A-10 championships.

Already ahead of the competition, the Minutemen opened the final day of competition by winning the first three with the help of Inglis and senior Max Butler. Butler totaled two individual gold medals and relay gold medals, making him a part of four of the 10 gold medals that the Minutemen captured.

“Max has had a good journey here, he struggled at times with his swimming, for me not only with Max, seeing all five of the senior swimmers and the two senior divers have tremendous final career ending meets, shows again their hard work,” Yarworth said.

For Yarworth, it isn’t about an individual effort as much as it is about individual improvement heading into the NCAA diver qualifiers.

“We create a culture of the goal of the program is beyond the individual, but through individual improvement we are going to continue to try and win the championship.”

Nicholas Bellofatto can be reached at nbellofa@student.umass.edu.

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