During the past few weeks, men’s and women’s swimming and diving practices have been increasingly less strenuous.
Members of both teams said they have been focusing on continuing to feel physically comfortable, while having more fun in the pool.
But by the middle of this week, the relaxation period will be over and the rosters will be put to their biggest test of the year so far. They will each compete in the Atlantic 10 Championships from Feb. 14 to 17 in Geneva, Ohio.
Since head coach James Winchester took over the programs three years ago, both squads have improved their conference results each season, moving up at least five spots on the final team leaderboard. Last year, the men’s team took home GW’s first-ever A-10 crown for swimming and diving, while the women finished sixth out of 11 teams.
Despite successful regular season slates, swimmers said because of how Winchester structured their preparation, they expect their best performances are yet to come.
“How James has built the program, we don’t really put any emphasis on the actual season,” senior captain Gustav Hokfelt said. “All emphasis is on the championship, so that’s where the focus is, that’s where hopefully we are going to swim fast.”
Men hope for repeat performance
The men’s swimming and diving team enters the conference tournament with a simple message: Block out the noise and win as a team.
The Colonials have been faced with added pressure to repeat last season’s trophy-winning performance. They were named the preseason favorite to win the 2018 title in an A-10 coaches’ poll, receiving five of eight first-place votes before the season began.
Up to this point in the year, GW has not disappointed, capping off a perfect 6-0 dual meet schedule with a 181.5–118.5 victory over Old Dominion last month.
Hokfelt – who was a key contributor in last year’s campaign, with an A-10 record in the 200-yard backstroke final and a gold in the 400-free relay team – said the team has tried not to focus on what they accomplished last year or how other teams may perform, but instead on executing what they have practiced during the year.
“We have done the work, we have worked harder than we ever had before as a team,” he said. “I think we are going to perform really well, other teams are also going to perform really well and it is going to be a close fight.”
Aside from Hokfelt, the Colonials will look to other returners including sophomores Emils Pone and Moritz Fath, juniors Patrick Lersch and Alexander Auster and senior Adam Drury to continue their successful GW careers this week.
The returning group comes with one large exception to the Colonials’ winning effort last year. Andrea Bolognesi – a 2017 graduate – was an All-American during his time at GW and claimed a team-high seven gold medals at last year’s A-10s.
Although Bolognesi’s departure was noticeable, Winchester said the men’s team has attempted to fill the gap with a deep group of swimmers.
However, GW’s success this season can’t go without the mention of newcomers who have made immediate impacts.
Junior transfer Tommi Wolst has become one of the Colonials’ top racers at multiple events – winning the 100-yard butterfly and the 200-yard backstroke against Old Dominion – and junior Austin Pyrch picked up some of GW’s fastest 50-yard freestyle times after joining the team in December.
On the boards, the Colonials will expect more points from their divers after the arrival of freshman Peter Nachtwey. Nachtwey and junior Jake Ortiz have combined to set three new program records this season.
“It’s a total team effort,” Winchester said. “We have a lot of dark horses at the same time, a lot of the way we train adds some unknowns going into it which makes it exciting.”
Women search for top-three finish
Members of women’s swimming and diving said the conference championships are both an opportunity to reach ambitious goals and for future progression of the program.
At last year’s event, the Colonials improved three positions from the season prior and set a number of records, including a program-best time (3:23.08) in their silver-medal 400-yard freestyle relay.
Senior captain Abigail Fusco, a member of that relay team, said the bar for this year is to get as many GW swimmers on the podium as possible.
“We have a goal of being in the top three,” she said. “But in general we are just hoping to get as many people into the final as we possibly can because that hasn’t been the case in the last few years.”
As one of the Colonials’ three four-year seniors, Fusco has continued to lead the Colonials in the pool. The sprinter swam a career-best time in the 50-yard butterfly (26.58) at the Magnus Cup Invitational earlier in the season.
GW finished out their dual meet season last month with a 7-2 record, falling by 12 points in both losses. But Winchester said the women’s side faces additional challenges in competition because of the A-10’s strength in the sport.
“The women’s conference is definitely very competitive and a little deeper than the men’s side,” Winchester said. “It’s taken a little bit more time to get where they we want our goals to go, but it’s definitely a process.”
Outside of Fusco, the Colonials are led by a core of young swimmers who were largely recruited during Winchester’s tenure.
Junior Emily Zhang, sophomores Jackie Torrez and Gemma Atherley and freshman Andrea Ho have been some of GW’s most consistent swimmers throughout the year. Swimmers said continuing the growth of the women’s team and success at this week’s meet can help the program in the long term.
“The faster you swim at a championship, the faster recruits you bring in,” Atherley said. “Which means the freshman class is faster and it just goes and goes from that.”
Winchester said the current roster still has holes they need to overcome in competition, but the culture of the team and competitiveness of the women allow him to head to Ohio with confidence.
Fusco – who said the two teams operate more as an individual squad – highlighted the program’s tight-knit feeling as their best asset. During competition, she said she worries more about GW’s results than her own.
“Our biggest phrase is ‘you work for the family,’ and I think every single one of us – when we get behind the blocks for our races – thinks about that,” Fusco said. “We want to get up on that podium, we want to score points because those go the team.”