Coming off a successful 2017-2018 season, the swimming and diving team officially started its practices with timed trials, preparing for the season’s first meet in two weeks. Last year, the women’s team placed fifth in the NESCAC Swimming and Diving Championship, with a program-record points total, and the men secured fourth for a program-best finish at the meet.
A number of athletes also competed at the NCAA Championships last spring, including six returning athletes. Sterling Dixon ’19 and Marshall Lowery ’20 qualified in the 200 and 400 IM and 200 backstroke respectively, while Mary Laurita ’21 and Amanda Banasiak ’20 competed in relay events. On the men’s side, Karl Sarier ’19 qualified for the 100 and 200 freestyle while Mitchell Ryan ’19 qualified for 1-meter and 3-meter diving.
The team hopes to build on its past achievements as it heads into the season, and is already hard at work according to Head Coach Brad Burnham.
“Swimming is unique [because] we use meets to see how much people are learning. We don’t have the expectation that anyone will be very good in the first semester, so instead it’s more about what we want to see for the future. What seeds are they planting right now that will show up in January and February,” said Burnham.
Burnham is only the second coach in the history of the swim and dive team after joining the program in 2000. He has guided the Polar Bears to numerous outstanding seasons and several All-American honors in one of the most competitive conferences in Division III swimming.
“Burnham is known in the swimming world for his drills focusing on technique with his swimmers,” said Dixon. “When you get to the age where you’re at college you need to break things down and see what other ways you can fix your stroke to get faster and [Burnham] is really great at doing that.”
The other half of the swim team, the diving program, is continuing to grow. According to Head Coach Kelsey Willard, the number of members has nearly tripled since she started coaching at Bowdoin in 2014.
Willard has been awarded the NESCAC Women’s Diving Coach of the Year award twice, in 2016 and 2017. Her encouragement and faith in the team has driven it to success.
“There are a lot of times where diving is more of a mental sport over a physical sport, and you can be on three meter, staring at the bottom of the pool, knowing it’s really high and that you’re learning a new dive, but she’s constantly encouraging and is really good at saying ‘Well I know you can do it,’” said Captain Becca Stern ’19.
This season, the diving team hopes to recognize and build upon small victories throughout the season.
“I encourage my divers to acknowledge all of their victories, no matter how seemingly insignificant,” Willard wrote in an email to the Orient.
In addition to achieving performance goals, the team is focused on creating a welcoming environment for new and returning athletes. Although swimming is an individual sport, swimmer Alex Burns ’21 says team members bond with whom they train.
“When you do a really hard set with a group of six guys, the six of you bond through that,” said Burns. “We’re all really proud of each other as a team. But the guys you swim with in your lane and the guys who [are in the] lane next to you, they’re the ones you’re patting on the back after practice. You’ve got camaraderie within the camaraderie of the whole team.”
The team will host its first meet Saturday, November 17 in Greason Pool at 12 p.m. against MIT and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. It will be the first opportunity for the team to showcase some new skills and positive outlook.
“Our coach says that we want to be the team that’s known for cheering each other [on] at the end of the lanes,” said Dixon. “Of course we want to be known for swimming fast and diving well, [too], but if we don’t, we still know that we were cheering for each other and rooting for each other as a whole.”