Sagehen swimmers sweep up at SCIAC meet

The P-P men’s team beat second-place CMS 1125.5 to 984.5 at the 2019 SCIAC Swimming and Diving Championships on Sunday, Feb. 24. (Courtesy • Pomona-Pitzer Athletics)
The P-P women’s team narrowly defeated CMS 1114.5 to 1071.5 at the SCIAC Championships, despite strong showings by individual Athena swimmers. (Courtesy: Pomona-Pitzer Athletics)

Proving last year was no fluke, the Pomona-Pitzer men’s and women’s swim and dive teams repeated as SCIAC champions Sunday, with both teams finishing in front of Sixth Street rival Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

The men kicked off the four-day meet at the Brenda Villa Aquatic Center in Commerce, California, by winning both the 200-yard medley and 800-yard freestyle relays Thursday.

“We’re a big relay team and we like to take those relay wins,” Ryan Drover PZ ’19 said. “It really sets the tone going into the meet and for us.”

The men would go on to win all five relays, which underscored what Drover found to be a theme of the competition — that it was a team effort.

However, thanks to a rule change this year, that team effort came from fewer people. The number of swimmers from each team eligible to score points dropped from 24 to 18. This meant that several swimmers whose scores would have counted last year no longer contributed to this year’s title, regardless of where they placed.

The rule was implemented to curb the dominance of large teams like P-P and CMS, leveling the playing field in terms of roster size. Mackenzie Cummings PO ’19 explained that the policy could hurt morale.

“We’ve tried really hard as a senior class to just get everyone excited for racing, no matter if you’re on the scoring team or not,” Cummings said.

According to Sagehens head coach J.P. Gowdy, the change did not have much of an impact.

“Ultimately, you have to go to the meet and perform well, and the kids you pick have to perform well,” Gowdy said. He said the entire team — not just the scorers — supported each other and competed hard all weekend.

While the P-P men defeated second-place CMS handily, 1125.5 to 984.5, the women were in a much tighter race with their rivals. The Sagehens beat the Athenas 1114.5 to 1071.5. Despite the losses, CMS had a number of highlights.

Augusta Lewis CM ’22 won both the 200-yard and 400-yard individual medleys in conference record times and was named SCIAC women’s Newcomer and Athlete of the Year. Mia Syme CM ’21 swept the distance freestyle events, lowering her own conference record in the 1,650-yard event and posting a time slightly off her record in the 500-yard. Both will advance to the NCAA championship.

I’m not exactly disappointed about the final results of the meet because I believe that we gave it our all and fought really hard, but I also am more determined and I really want the Athenas to win next year,” Syme said. “I’m pretty happy with my individual swims this year, but I want to drop time in the 500 this postseason.”

For the Stags, Marco Conati HM ’21 won both the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly, qualifying for the national meet in the latter.

Even with the change in scoring rules, no other teams threatened the Claremont squads — third place Occidental trailed the Athenas by 564.5, while third place Redlands lost to the Stags by 396.5.      

The Sagehen women’s win avenged a loss to CMS during the regular season at their dual meet in December.

“We tried to use that as fuel for the fire going into SCIACs, knowing that we had lost, but we had beat them before and could do it again,” Cummings said.

A highlight of the meet for P-P came in Paddy Baylis’ PO ’22 narrow .02 second win in the 1,650-yard freestyle Sunday night. He swam the last length in 24.95 seconds for a come-from-behind win, a feat Cummings and Drover said is practically unheard of.

“You don’t close a mile in a 24.9 to run down a guy by two body lengths when he’s one of the best swimmers in the country,” Drover said, referring to Cal Lutheran’s Ben Brewer. “You just don’t do that.”

The entire team felt the excitement.

“We were just losing it,” Cummings said. “It really set the tone for the rest of the night.”

P-P — unlike CMS, which has been historically dominant — has seen a large improvement in its program over the past half-decade.

“Five to six years ago we were pretty terrible,” Cummings said. “Everyone was out there to have a good time.”

The current team is more accustomed to success, but that spirit has remained untouched. According to Cummings, the culture now consists of “dank memes,” “stupid” songs, silly cheers and being able to “swim fast while still having a lot of fun.”

Sarah Jin PO ’19 has valued this consistency throughout her four years on the team.

“The atmosphere and culture is still super supportive and loving,” Jin said. “We’re definitely more competitive now than we had ever been before, but the team environment itself has always been great.”

The team’s rapid rise is most clearly illustrated by its drastic increase in representation at the NCAA meet. Four years ago, P-P sent one person from the men’s side and one relay team from the women. Last year, they sent eight men and eight women. This year, they expect their biggest representation yet, and will be notified who makes the cut Wednesday.

“We’ve gone from a program that wasn’t competitive on the SCIAC level to a program that last year was top-10 in both sides [in] the country, and it looks like it’s going to keep moving in that direction,” Drover said.

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