Rested UMass swimming and diving team rolls into Ohio for A-10 Championships

By Liam Flaherty

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

On Wednesday in Geneva, Ohio, the Massachusetts swimming and diving teams will begin competition in the 2017 Atlantic-10 Conference Championships.

At the SPIRE Institute, the UMass teams look to take the four-day meet by storm and return to Amherst with the two best performances that any teams in the conference could offer.

The Minutemen head into the competition coming off a loss to Fordham and nearly three weeks of practice in preparation for the final meet.

After an unnaturally long break between meets, a 10-hour bus ride to Geneva and plenty of time to think about the championships, UMass is rested and finally ready to compete.

“It’s been a really good stretch of getting rest in,” Minutemen coach Russ Yarworth said. “Kids are feeling more comfortable in the water and I think we’ve progressed really well.”

Starting with the preliminary rounds at 1 p.m., one of the most notable UMass swimmers in the pool to watch will be Kellen Gray.

The sophomore swimmer from Kensington, New Hampshire is in his second season with the team and Gray is no stranger to the pressures of the conference championship meet.

At last year’s championships, he placed fourth in the 100-yard backstroke and fifth in the 200-yard event. For his breakout performance, Gray was named the Rookie of the Meet.

On the diving boards, the Minutemen have been led all season by Trent Kindvall, who placed top three in at least one event at each meet he’s competed in this season.

The junior from Colorado has placed first in the three-meter event in both years that he attended the A-10 Championships.

Coming off two championship victories in the past two years, the Minutemen and Kindvall specifically, look to make it a three-peat this weekend with another top performance.

But, as a 16-time champion head coach, Yarworth knows that it will take much more than just showing up for the team to reach its goals.

“We have to perform from top to bottom. Every kid has to hit and contribute,” Yarworth said. “There’s so much parity in the league this year, every team is really powerful and has good swimmers and divers, it’s going to take a total team performance.”

Minutewomen look to improve

In their final dual meet of the season, the Minutewomen fell to the Fordham Rams by a score of 190-110.

But with almost three weeks in the rearview since, that same UMass team has moved on and set its sights on the season’s ultimate goal of being named A-10 Champions.

With the team arriving in Ohio on Monday and the trials beginning on Wednesday, Minutewomen coach Bob Newcomb and his team feel rested and confident to begin competition.

“It’s been a really positive vibe,” Newcomb said. “[The team] really seems ready to go.”

In the pool, sophomores Ansley Baker and Maddie Biron will have the opportunity to shine for UMass.

Baker, a Massachusetts native, placed fifth at last year’s championships in the 100-yard breaststroke event with a time of 1:03.36.

Her name has been in the leaderboards for the event multiple times throughout the season and this weekend she’ll have a shot at bettering last year’s fifth-place finish.

Biron had a strong showing at last year’s championships as well, swimming her season-fastest times in the 100-yard backstroke, 100-yard freestyle and 50-yard freestyle.

With the type of improvement she showed at last year’s events, the sophomore is poised to have a big weekend for the Minutewomen this year in the pool.

“Maddie has really come into her own over the course of the year and developed nicely,” Newcomb said. “She’s in the spotlight now to really step up and be one of the leaders of the program.”

On the boards, UMass divers have executed exceptionally well all season and look to continue their success in the championship events.

The team is comprised of a diver from each academic class, coached by Mandy Hixon, and could play a major impact in the scoring to help the Minutewomen come away on top Saturday when competition concludes.

Freshman Maja Boric’s first season with the team has been an exceptional one.

The Croatian diver has placed first in the one and three-meter dive events multiple times throughout the course of the season.

On the boards this weekend, Boric, along with her fellow divers, hope to bring the success they have found all year to the A-10 Championships.

“[Boric’s] come in and become a key part of an incredible group of divers. I think all four of them are going to have great weekends. They’re a great group together,” Newcomb said.

In recent years, the Minutewomen have found success at the A-10s, placing second and fourth. But ultimately, they haven’t been able to reach their highest goal of coming in first since 2001.

This year, the team hopes to write a different script than what’s been told in the past. Although they feel confident and rested, Newcomb knows that whatever’s happened to the team prior to the current finals doesn’t really matter at all.

“Nothing on paper means anything at this point, right now it’s all about getting in and getting it done.”

If the Minutewomen want to walk away from the biggest meet of the season with an A-10 title, “It has be a complete team effort,” Newcomb said. “We have good balance, good leadership and a good attitude, which is what it’s going to take.”

Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected]