It’s been one week since the swimming and diving team took the platforms at Kenyon College where the season officially began on October 18 with a relay meet. The meet was a stepping stone and measuring stick before getting into OAC competition, where ONU has dominated on both the men’s and women’s sides over the last decade.
The men’s team has won ten straight OAC team titles, one in each of Coach Peggy Ewald’s ten seasons prior to this 2014 edition. 15 different lettermen return from a team that won the OAC title by 261.5 points in the final meet of the year. Eight swimmers total return on the men’s side who have all- conference accolades under their belts. A large freshman class is another reason for optimism in the pool this year for the men, showing that the future is now for the Polar Bears.
With one meet already complete, junior swimmer Mitch Murphy said that he likes the men’s team’s enthusiasm and energy after the first weekend.
“We had a few disqualifications on our relays, but that will be fixed with practice and timing,” said the Perry, Ohio native. Murphy’s personal goals included dropping time in his events and placing higher in the OAC. More importantly, he said, is that he wants to see the men’s team come together and “bond as a family and brotherhood.”
Youth is not the only thing that the men’s team has going for it. Also returning are seniors Chris Hoffman, Jason Luthman and Spencer Franzoi, a trio that has been named all-OAC a combined 19 times over their careers. On the diving board, the men’s Co-OAC Diver of the Year returns for his sophomore season in Tim Pelltier, looking to defend his title.
The women’s team has also experienced their fair share of success in the last decade, winning the last six conference titles in a row and seven of the last eight. The lady Polar Bear team has also captured the last nine regular season OAC titles. This women’s team returns 14 letter winners and six different individuals who return as OAC champions.
A young women’s team from top to bottom will show the depth of this ONU swimming and diving program as there are only three seniors and three juniors on the team.
With one meet already complete, sophomore swimmer Jill Chapman said she liked the attitude of the team surrounding the events on Saturday at Kenyon College. The Sandusky native swam in six of nine events for the Polar Bears, finishing third in the breast relay and fourth in the mixed medley relay.
When asked what she felt was different about this year’s women’s team, Chapman said, “It’s different from a sophomore point of view, everyone is a year older and knows the program better.” She went on to say that her freshman year, she didn’t really know what to expect, and is looking forward to taking the younger ladies under her wing.
Coach Peggy Ewald, beginning her 11th season at ONU, is very optimistic for the season to come. It all starts with the seniors, she said when I met with her after one practice. “They know the tradition and know the leadership roles while setting the tone and the culture of the program.” This of course is because they have been there and done that.
As for differences between the men’s and women’s team, Coach Ewald is in a unique situation where teams are highly involved with one another, unlike many other athletics on a college campus.
“There may not be differences between coaching them, but the athletes are different. The men’s team is a fun-loving and competitive group while the women are more serious and focused on their training. It’s a happy balance in the pool between the two teams,” Ewald said.
“It’s easier to get to the top than to stay at the top,” Coach Ewald said of her recent string of success. “This team is embracing the challenges both in the pool and in the classroom,” she added. The team continues to learn to fail, coming back stronger each time a curveball is thrown their way while consistently learning in the process.
“You never want to be the team to end a run like we have,” Jill Chapman said of the pressure associated with swimming in such a prestigious program in the OAC. Her men’s team counterpart added that he enjoys swimming in such a competitive and successful environment and wants to see suc- cess both in and out of the pool for the team. That’s something they’ll have to get used to, to keep putting OAC titles in the trophy case.
“It was fun but we were focused,” said Chapman of the first meet. This year is all about staying focused; the same focus that the ONU swimming and diving team has had over the last decade.