SMC Swimming: Belles finish last in conference, declare season a success
By ERIK POWERS
For the Belles swim and dive team the three-day MIAA Championship meet signified the end to a season of commitment, hard work and determination.
When the MIAA championships ended Saturday, the only place that the Belles didn't finish in first was the standings. After finishing fifth last year and swimming a tight meet with eventual champion Hope to open the season, Saint Mary's had high hopes aspirations for this year's meet. But while the team slipped may have slipped in the standings (to sixth of the six teams), the Belles displayed marked improvement and scored a moral victory.
"It is unfortunate that we finished last in the conference because that truly does not reflect our swims or our ability," captain Lane Herrington said. "We are a young team and we greatly lack in depth in comparison to our competition."
The Belles dug themselves an early hole when competition began Thursday when only four swimmers qualified for the evening finals. Kelly Nellis and Megan Ramsey placed in the top six in the 500 freestyle and Maureen Palchak and Lane Herrington placed in the top 12. The Belles' bright spot came early when the 200 freestyle relay taking fourth place ahead of Alma and Albion.
Things brightened Friday when the Belles took to the water in the morning session. Junior Maureen Palchak led the team by setting a new school record in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:59.33. Then, junior Megan Ramsey warmed up for the evening session by qualifying first in the 100 butterfly. A total of nine swimmers qualified to swim individual events in the evening session.
That Friday, the Belles finally reaped the benefits of a season of intense training and dedication. The Belles 200 Medley relay of Herrington, Smith, Ramsey and Palchak started the evening off by taking fourth, beating out Alma and Albion. The record in the 200 freestyle was again broken that evening, this time by Freshman Kelly Nellis in a time of 1:59.21. The 100 fly proved to be the highlight of the evening as Ramsey swam to first place against tough competition. It was the first time a swimmer from Saint Mary's ever placed first in the MIAA. Ramsey earned the designation of a "B-cut" NCAA swimmer, meaning that she will be under consideration to make the national championships after all the automatic qualifiers are extended.
Another exciting swim for Saint Mary's came from freshman Katie Dingeman qualifying to swim the 400 IM in consolation finals. Also that night, point-scoring swims came from Palchak and Herrington in the finals of the 200 freestyle and the 100 backstroke, respectively. Julie McGranahan (100 fly), Leanne Godfrey (100 back), Jamie Veslick (100 back) and Lauren Smith (100 breast) scored points in the consolation finals. Dingeman dropped time from her morning swim to a lifetime best of 5:02. The evening closed with Palchak, Nellis, Lebiedz and Ramsey breaking the school record in the 800 freestyle relay with a time of 8:09.
Although the team title no longer remained a possibility, the Belles still bucked dejection in order to fight incredibly hard Saturday. The final day of competition featured the team's strengths: the 200 stroke events. The morning ended with eight swimmers qualifying to swim again in Saturday's finals. Notable individual performances included Jackie Huelbig's heat-winning, lifetime best effort in the timed mile, Candace Polisky's best time of the season and 12th place finish and sophomore Angie Ozmanski's 12th place finish in 1M diving.
The excitement that had been building throughout the meet culminated in the fast swims of Saturday night. The evening started by taking time to recognize the seniors from each team in the MIAA including Saint Mary's Lauren Smith and Lane Herrington, who would swim their final race Saturday night after competing with the Belles for four years. Godfrey and Herrington got the meet off to a good start by taking 10th and 11th respectively in the finals of the 200 backstroke. Smith and Lebiedz both turned out solid races in the 200 breaststroke. Palchak was also able to come back and drop time from her morning swim in the 100 free. The flyers of Saint Mary's stepped up to the competition with Dingeman wining the consolation heat (seventh place) and McGranahan coming in less than half a second later to take ninth place. In the finals of the 200 fly Ramsey took 3rd place. The meet concluded with the 400 freestyle relay. The team of Ramsey, Herrington, Nellis and Palchak took fourth and set a new school record.
The women of the Saint Mary's swim team have begun to earn the respect of the MIAA. It is only a matter of time until the Belles move up in the conference as a team. They are looking to gain depth in the future and already have a strong recruiting class. The team will only lose two seniors this year; the rest of the team has already begun to look to the successes that the future certainly holds for them.
All Sports Stories for Monday, February 17, 2003