Swim and Dive: Minutemen, Minutewomen head to A-10 Championship for season finale

The teams’ physical shape and mental fortitude will tell the story for UMass

Nina+Walat

Nina Walat

By  Joseph Aliberti, Collegian Staff

The moment both the Massachusetts men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams have been waiting and training for the entire season is here, the Atlantic 10 Championships.

Both teams will head to Geneva, Ohio next Monday by way of an eight-plus-hour bus ride, and then use Tuesday to recuperate after a long day of travel. The Invitational will start on Wednesday and last until Saturday night.

Preparation has been the most important thing for each team since August, and this is the event where they will finally show off how much they actually have prepared. Both teams have now entered the taper process, but have chosen to attack the process in different manners.

The men’s team’s swimmers all started their process at the same time, around a week or so ago, and are going through the process together. Women’s head coach Bob Newcomb has taken the approach of being precise with every individual swimmer, using a culmination of statistics from a spreadsheet, while also talking and meeting with each swimmer individually and discussing what will be the best possible way for them to be in the best possible shape come time for Wednesday.

“Everybody is going to meet on that Wednesday ready to go,” Newcomb said. “It’s all about how they rest and how they get better.”

Many factors go into the way that each swimmer performs in Ohio, not just their physical shape. A factor that might play just as big a role is the factor of pressure. Even though men’s head coach Russ Yarworth, Newcomb and their staffs do all they can to prepare their teams, there is nothing throughout the season that compares to the size, environment and competitiveness that they will see when they are at the pool next week.

“You’ve got to be mentally tough and ready for it,” Yarworth said. “You’ve got to not be afraid of success and not be afraid of failure. They can’t put too many expectations on themselves. They just have to perform and do what they have been trained to do.”

Both coaches have plenty of experience and have seen a lot in their time as coaches, so they know that it isn’t something that you are able to just teach each swimmer to be able to adapt to.

“I have seen very accomplished swimmers walk out of that ready room on the first night with a look of sheer terror on their face,” Newcomb said. “And we talk about it, we try to tell everybody that until they see it for the first time, it’s a hard one to really understand, and hoping that they just go.”

Not only do the swimmers face adversity, but the coaches do as well. Each coach is allotted 25 spots for swimmers and divers, but only 20 of them will actually count in the scoring. They are allowed 17 scoring swimmers, three scoring divers and five extra swimmers that are only allowed to race in the preliminary races.

“This A-10 team is going to be one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever made,” Newcomb said. “Even if [the five swimmers on the non-scoring team] have a time that is fast enough to score and swim at night, they can’t do it and I’ve done that before as a coach and that sucks.”

On top of the challenge of deciding who will be and won’t be on the scoring team, each coach has to fit the swimmers in a perfect puzzle of what races they are going to compete in, which can be difficult when you include all of the factors. The times of each race, the amount of races they’re in, how each specific race will affect them physically and mentally and if there’s multiple swimmers that are equally good at a specific race. Then it is a matter of getting lucky and picking the correct swimmer that day.

A specific event to watch for is the men’s 200-yard medley relay, as the unit of Michael Tartakovsky, Al Madden, William Munstermann and Ryan Pedrick are 6-0 when racing together in the medley relay event.

“That might be the best core unit in the program,” assistant coach Sean Clark said. “They like training together and they have a sense of where they’re all at. They’ve had that camaraderie, that closeness and that attention all season long.”

On the diving side, the Minutewomen’s Maja Boric has been phenomenal all year long, having a 19-1 record in all of her events this year. Boric has been here before and excelled. In both her sophomore and junior years she qualified for the NCAA Championship, and she already clinched a spot in the next round at zones, even before she has done a single dive in Ohio.

“The idea is to get her to do a lot of rehearsal,” Newcomb said. “She has such a beautiful routine with every dive. This is another opportunity for her in a longer event to be able to practice.”

With A-10s only a week away, both teams still have work to do to prepare, whether it be making sure their taper is complete and their bodies are in peak form, or making sure each race has the best possible swimmer for every single event.

“My expectation is to have a great time doing great times,” Yarworth said.

UMass will be at Spire Institute from Wednesday, Feb. 19 through Saturday, Feb. 22.

 Joseph Aliberti can be reached via email at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti1