Now that AU Swim & Dive is back in action, there are plenty of new faces walking the deck of Frailey Pool. After AU added its largest recruiting class in recent memory, the class of 2024 is helping flip the script for the men’s and women’s programs as they look to rebuild and add depth as strong competitors in the Patriot League.
With an even addition of 12 women and 12 men to the programs this past year, student-athletes are already finding their footing in this unique season. After a department-wide hiatus, ever-changing practice schedules and limited dual meets, the freshmen are jumping in feet first making a quick difference.
In the teams’ losses against Loyola Maryland, as well as in a virtual-meet win for the men and a close loss for the women against Holy Cross, the freshmen had plenty of promising races and opportunities for time-drops at the Patriot League Championship next month.
In the complexities of competition with coronavirus precautions, AU and Holy Cross raced in events on March 13 from their respective pools and compared times in order to hold a “virtual meet.” With limited opportunities to compete before the end-of-season championships, both teams were looking for more competition before the final races.
Notable freshman performances from the meets on the women’s side include Mimi Watts’ 56.39 in the 100-yard fly, which earned her the sixth-best time in the event in AU program history. Watts has also earned the 14th-best personal time in program history for the 100 backstroke with a 58.46. Watts and other freshmen Kenzie Cresci and Mallory Meister also swam on AU’s “A” medley relay against Holy Cross with senior Abby Longstaff. Freshmen Sasha Uspenskaya and Malak Hassouna also put up strong times in their events while freshmen Amanda Bosses and Grace Hogue represented the divers during the meets.
The freshman athletes also impressed on the men’s side, especially in the win against Holy Cross. The winning men’s medley relay comprised of senior Liam Riebling and first-years Aldrich Elvambuena, Will Timme, and Caleb Farris, with Farris going on to sweep the 100 and 200 freestyle events in 47.60 and 1:45.50 later in the meet. Elvambuena also had a good day, sweeping the 100 and 200 backstroke in 54.48 and 2:03.08. Other wins on the day from the dominant freshman included Nick Buckley in the 50 free, Timme in the 200 breaststroke and Jonathan Quick in the 500 free.
The recruiting success of this past year has clearly paid dividends.
Assistant coach Garland Bartlett, now in her fifth season with AU, leads the recruitment process for both programs. She said the team’s camaraderie is the biggest factor in the athletes’ decisions to commit.
“Over the past couple years, I've really worked on getting the team more involved with recruiting,” she said. “What really helped this recruiting class is the official visits. The official visits we had in the fall were huge to get the initial group going, and then with the spring, half of our class never saw campus at the start of the pandemic.”
In order to keep recruiting after the start of the pandemic, Bartlett moved online and built relationships with the athletes and their families through Zoom calls. She also set up opportunities for upperclassmen to connect with athletes and give their perspectives.
“The upperclassmen have just really done a great job of investing in the program and the future of the team and creating those connections and contacts with the recruits,” Bartlett said.
AU swimmers and divers do not receive athletic scholarships for their participation, but they are eligible for academic scholarships and need-based money like other AU students, according to Bartlett and head coach Mark Davin. The swimming and diving programs use their funding for things like traveling, equipment and accommodations, showing how the athletes who commit to the athletic programs know the value of being a student at AU.
“I think when [recruits] realize all the opportunities being a student at American offers — they can still swim Division One, but they can also have that high academic program and have the internships and go downtown into D.C.,” Bartlett said. “We really try to promote that you're going to get a great swimming experience, but you're also going to be set up for a great future once you graduate. Not only in the pool, but outside the pool.”
Building the team’s depth has been a goal over the past few seasons. The men’s team in particular has focused on assembling a full team. Last season the program was trying to just “fill the locker room” because it had more than 20 lockers, but only 12 student-athletes. Now, they field a full team and are able to put together a competitive lineup against opponents.
When swimmers and divers commit, the freshmen said, they’re entering a very positive team environment. That’s certainly helping the team grow. Nicole Behrens said the AU program reminded her of her club team at home, and she knew it was the right fit for her after her recruiting trip. Elvambuena said he knew AU had the combination of swimming and academics that he was looking for, and the team had the right energy.
“We all bring so many great different energies and strengths that help us unite our team,” Elvambuena said. “I think it's important that we recognize that the diversity and the hard working training of our team is what makes us who we are.”
AU’s next competition will again come against Loyola March 27 before it looks to send qualifiers to the Patriot League Championship at Bucknell in late April. Despite the short season, the cultivated team environment from this class of athletes will help set the tone for future years.