Record-breaking performances lead Belles' dominance
By NOREEN GILLESPIE
Saint Mary's Editor
Coach Gretchen Hildebrandt had one wish for her swimmers leading into the MIAA swimming and diving championships: That they would attack their races.
After Thursday night, attack was no longer the word she could use to describe her swimmers' performances.
It was more like destroy.
Maybe it was the unexpected fourth place standing the Belles found themselves in at the conclusion of Thursday's finals. Maybe it was the fact that Saint Mary's swimmers dropped more time than any other team in the conference championship. Or maybe it was the four record-breaking performances the athletes posted throughout the course of the day that led Hildebrandt to believe that maybe her high expectations for the weekend just weren't high enough.
"This is what I dream of," said Hildebrandt, first-year coach for the Belles. "You can never guarantee anything, but this — this kind of day — this is what you hope for."
Rebounding from a sixth place MIAA finish in 1999, the Belles sought to advance with the home court advantage in their corner in 2000. After tallying dual meet scores and analyzing expected performances, a fifth-place finish for the weekend was not an unreasonable goal. But when Thursday's tallies put the team in fourth place ahead of Alma, Albion, and Olivet Colleges after day one, the team admitted that it might be time to reevaluate that goal.
"It's hard to say if we're going to stay here," Hildebrandt said. "Every single day is different, and we don't have anyone in the 400 individual medley tomorrow, which will hurt us. But we will have fantastic performances tomorrow."
Regardless, Saint Mary's rise to fourth place does make Alma and Albion Colleges, both of which defeated the Belles in regular season competition, take this team a little more seriously.
"This shows a couple of teams that we are really tough. They may not be tapered as well, and that's playing to our advantage. But we're so happy we're fourth right now ... I'm going to take a picture of that scoreboard and mount it on the wall. This makes a huge statement."
With Thursday's events behind them, day one's performances have set a precedent that success is to be expected in this meet. Record breaking performances proved to be the rule rather than the exception, and the team has yet to attack the events that record breaking performances were expected in.
"They've seen what they can do, and it's contagious," Hildebrandt said. "There is no stopping this team."
Colleen Sullivan set the pace for the meet early in the day, when, in her first individual event, she broke Danielle Clayton's 1999 50 freestyle record. Sullivan's mark, which undercut Clayton's by two tenths of a second to 25.73 seconds in the morning, was enough to earn her a place in the consolation finals. Stepping up again, Sullivan broke her own record, cutting it to 25.60 and an eighth place overall finish.
"I just wanted to take control of that race," Sullivan said. "I wasn't focused on my competitors. I try to focus on myself, on my race. I just wanted to give it all I [could.]"
Sullivan also anchored the 200 medley relay team that cracked a 15-year-old record set by Rafferty, Pancrantz, Murtaugh and Byrne in February of 1985. The record, set during the team's championship season, was the oldest record left on the Saint Mary's board. The team of Sullivan, Clayton, Alicia Lesneskie and Lane Herrington lowered that mark by over two seconds, updating the record books to 1 minute, 43.95 seconds.
"Breaking a 200 freestyle record by two seconds is unheard of," said athletic director Lyn Kachmarik. "This is unbelievable."
The 400 medley relay team of Michelle Samreta, Herrington, Lesneskie and Clayton also rewrote the books, resetting their own record by more than six seconds.
Aware they had to edge Alma College to finish fourth for day one, the record wasn't even a consideration. Advancing past Alma and threatening Kalamazoo College by less than a second, the team posted a surprising drop from their record posted in late January.
"I didn't expect that," said Hildebrandt. "They broke their own record by six seconds — that's amazing. I knew that everyone was going fast, but I didn't realize they broke it."
Individual performances were also strong, with Olivia Smith securing a sixth place finish in the 500 freestyle, followed by Lesneskie's 11th place finish. Freshman Lauren Smith finished 11th in the 200 individual medley, and Clayton earned 11th in the 50 freestyle.
The Belles will return to Rolfs Aquatic Center tomorrow morning, to defend their fourth place position and potentially challenge more records.
"They are just mentally there," Hildebrandt said. "It's going to be awesome."
All Sports Stories for Friday, February 11, 2000