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Swimming and diving teams open up season

The Massachusetts men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams hosted the season-opening meet against Boston University on Saturday afternoon.

The men, winners of five consecutive Atlantic 10 championships, showed fight in their first meet, bringing it right down to the finish and emerging with a rare tie, 149-149. The women on the other hand, struggled slightly against a quick BU team and fell 177-122.

The men started out strong with the 200-yard medley relay. The team of Hao Luong, Peter Sacco, Chris Inglis and Colin Mulcahy led the entire race and finished with a time of 1:35.18, more than three and a half seconds better then BU’s second-place foursome.

In the men’s 1000-yard freestyle, BU’s Alec Pokornowski dominated the race with a 9:47.45, finishing nearly three quarters of a lap ahead of the second-place Minutemen senior captain, Joey Sbordon.

After racing in the 1000, Sbordon quickly jumped back in the pool and competed in the next race, the 200-yard freestyle.  After trailing through three laps, Sbordon pulled off a turn and went into top gear. He reached Cole Puchi from BU and the two were neck and neck before Sbordon out-touched him by nearly three tenths of a second for the victory.

“[UMass] coach Russ Yarworth has taught me the right way to swim the 200 free by not going out too excited in the first 100 of the race, and come back stronger in the second half,” said Sbordon.  “The BU swimmer had a great race as well, but once he made his move I knew there was another 50 left to try and find the next gear and made my move in the last 25.”

Next was the 100-yard backstroke and by the end of the race, UMass displayed its new standout freshman. The 19-year-old Luong, in his first year out of Malden High School, took part in a tight race in which all six members were in it to the end and he was able to pull out a win in his first-ever collegiate race.

Despite it being his first college meet, Luong showed great confidence going into it.

“I felt confident in my events,” said Luong. “Those are my main events, I trained hard the last couple weeks and I was ready for it.”

In the 200 backstroke, Luong pulled off yet another exciting victory. Going into the fourth and final lap, he was in fourth place, but pulled past UMass senior Kyle Jennings as well as two BU opponents to win the race by nearly four tenths of a second with a time of 1:54.28.

As the top UMass backstroker, Jennings was very impressed with Luong’s performance on the day.

“We needed another backstroker to fill the place of [recently graduated] record holder Max Butler and [Hao] certainly has the ability to help fill that void,” said Jennings. “He swam like a veteran in his first college meet notching two wins in clutch situations and leading off the first place medley relay team.”

Sbordon and sophomore Troy Nichols finished one and two in the 500-yard freestyle, with Sbordon leading the majority of the race, winning by a quarter of a lap with a time of 4:44.82. Sophomore Chris Inglis then recorded his first personal victory of the season, winning the 100 butterfly with a time of 52.19.

The Minutemen swept the diving portion with junior Alex Merkulov dominating the performance. He scored personal bests with a 318.52 in the one-meter and 319.65 in the three-meter, putting him at fifth all-time in both events for UMass. Senior Conor Dunn finished second in both events with respectable scores of 265.73 and 247.05.

With the Minutemen leading 145-136, it all came down to the final event of the meet, the 400-yard freestyle relay. All UMass needed was to either come in first place or second and third to pull off the victory. However, the Minutemen were unable to pull off the feat as BU took first, followed by UMass’ foursome of Mulcahy, Nichols, Sbordon and Sacco, who was then followed up by another BU team of four. The result was a very rare 149-149 tie.

Yarworth was satisfied with the efforts put out by his team.

“I was understandably pleased with freshman Hao Luong’s first meet, he showed some real race maturity for a youngster,” said Yarworth. “Our sprinters looked fairly solid and [I] was very pleased with Joe Sbordon and Troy Nichols in the 500.”

“We are going into a heavy training cycle now but plan on bringing our best effort down to West Point on Saturday,” Yarworth added.

Despite losing Saturday afternoon, the Minutewomen put together a good first effort.  The day started off strong with UMass winning the 200-yard medley relay. The team was made up of Amina Meho, Katie Arnott, Sarah Kanellas and Zoe Judd, who out-touched the second-place BU team by less than two tenths of a second, with a time of 1:49.28.

The Minutewomen failed to win the next five races, but Judd gave them a first-place finish in the 50-yard freestyle. At 5-foot-11, the freshman is the second tallest swimmer on the team and posted a 24.53, followed by Meho in second place with a 24.94.

UMass went winless again until another freshman had a standout performance. Arnott, sister of senior swimmer Sarah Arnott, dominated the 200 freestyle, beating her second-place BU competitor by half a lap with a time of 2:23.49, which was good for sixth place all time for the Minutewomen. She also won the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 2:11.08 and came in second in the 100-yard breaststroke posting a 1:06.71.

The women’s diving received a great performance from junior Michaela Butler, who is back after taking her sophomore year off because of an injury. She won both the one-meter with a score of 229.57, and the three meter with a 246.75.

Despite the loss, UMass coach Bob Newcomb was very pleased with the team’s performance, stating that he has never had a group of girls post a 3:33 in a dual meet 400-yard freestyle race until Saturday.  He believes that this loss will ultimately help them in preparing for the A-10 championship in February.

“The whole schedule to me doesn’t mean a whole lot because to me, the schedule is just preparing us for the A-10 meet,” said Newcomb. “I learned a whole lot today. I learned different ways people are going to have to warm up, I learned different races that people are going to swim, I learned the order of the relay. These are all things that are going to make us better in February and that is our ultimate goal.”

The teams will face off this Saturday in West Point, N.Y. against Army at 2 p.m.

Taylor Snow can be reached at tsnow@student.umass.edu.

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