Buoyed by a wave of record-setting performances, the women’s swim team earned a fifth-place finish at the NESCAC Championship last weekend, the best in program history. In addition, Head Coach Brad Burnham was named the conference’s Coach of the Year.

Star first year Mariah Rawding led the Polar Bears, setting school records in every event she swam. She finished third in the 200m breaststroke (2:20.52) and took home fourth-place finishes in the 50m breast (29.90) and the 100m breast (1:04.59).

Reading also swam on two fourth-place, school record-setting relays: the 200m free with Bridget Killian ’16, captain Patty Boyer ’15 and Sophia Walker ’17 (1:36.85) ,and the 400 medley with Walker, captain Teri Faller ’15 and Katie Kronick ’17 (3:54.18).

“Certainly Mariah Rawding was a great addition to relays and her individual events were very strong—school records in three individual events and as part of a bunch of relays, as well,” said Burnham.

Rawding also led off the highest-placing Bowdoin relay, the second-place 400m free team that also featured Killian, Lela Garner ’16 and Walker with a school-record time of 3:28.64.

Faller and Caroline Watt ’18 also set Bowdoin individual records in fourth-place finishes. Faller swam 26.92 in the 50m backstroke and Watt turned in an impressive 17:18.20 in the 1,650 free.

Sitting in fifth place after day one of the three-day meet, the Polar Bears knew they had a shot at taking the program to new heights in the conference standings.

“After the first day—after everyone swam out of their minds—we knew top five could be a possibility,” said Isabel Schwartz ’17. “We kept saying ‘one hand,’ meaning we wanted to finish in the top five. So that was a theme throughout the meet that we bonded over.”

“When you have a great first relay and everyone swims well, it makes the sprinters go well,” said Burnham. “And then we had some great swims in the 500, so I think the team felt good after that. You take a sigh of relief and just keep going.”

After the fast start from some of their best events, the women knew they would have to fight to hold onto their spot.

“We knew that fifth would be our best-ever score,” said Boyer. “We knew very early on that we could be fifth, but our hardest thing would be maintaining that.”

“Friday was our strongest day. And the fact that you’re moving through the meet and getting more tired—keeping up the momentum from that first day is really important,” added Faller.

Once it became clear on Sunday that the Polar Bears had successfully held their spot, the meet became a jubilant affair for the swimmers.

“It was such a fun place to be,” said Faller. “You’d wait for someone to walk back after their swim and everyone would just rush them and hug them. So it was definitely emotional.”

Thanks to their exceptional times, several members of the team appear poised to qualify for the D III Championship in Houston during the weekend of March 20-22. Watt (1,650 free) and Rawding (200 breast), along with all members of the 200-and 400-freestyle relays, will make the trip to Texas if they remain in top-16 slots nationally in their events after more D-III schools compete in conference championships this weekend.

“The women have a long break [until Nationals]. It’s a good four weeks,” said Burnham. “So the rest of this week will be moderate and we’ll just slowly bring things back in, the same training that we were doing for the last five or six weeks of the season.”

Burnham’s NESCAC Coach of the Year honor was a cherry on top of the team’s triumphant weekend.

“Everyone was so excited. People were crying because they were so happy,” said Schwartz. “We swarmed him afterwards and gave him a big hug. He deserved it and everyone knew it.”

“It’s voted on by the other coaches, so I would assume they recognized that our women swam better as a team,” said Burnham. “It truly is the swimmers that do all the work, not me. They swam lights out, and I get a nice title for a year.”

“Brad has a really unique way to approach swimming,” said Faller. “A lot of people on our team come from teams where it’s a lot of drilling, a lot of yelling—motivation by fear, quite honestly. And Brad’s definitely not like that. He’s very much, ‘Do what you need to do. Focus on your technique.’ He genuinely invests in you.”

Dreams of an even better finish are fueling the Polar Bear’s off season training.

“We realized that we’re getting better as a team, and it will push us to train harder this spring and over the summer through the fall to prepare for next year,” said Schwartz. “We want to get the incoming freshmen excited to be part of the team.”