By Thomas Albano
The year has changed, but the story remains the same for the men’s swimming and diving team, which won the MAAC Championship for a fourth consecutive year Feb. 11-14 in Buffalo, New York.
The men placed first with 689.50 points in the team scores, 50 points ahead of second-place Marist. This is the Rider men’s fifth conference championship and the 19th time since 1996 that they finished either as champion or runner-up.
The women’s team placed third with 436.50 points, behind Canisius, who had 528 points, and Marist, who won their 15th MAAC title with 860 points.
Head Coach Steve Fletcher believes the team has built a foundation to continuously put out a talented roster each year.
“You don’t go into the season assuming anything,” Fletcher said. “Each year the team is different, but I think the last couple of years we managed to build a culture that creates certain expectations for the freshmen coming in, and the seniors do a nice job of making sure we can manage the bumps in the road of our season to put us back in that place where we have a shot every year.”
Freshman fly and freestyle swimmer Zack Molloy made plenty of impact while helping to lead his team toward the title. As part of the 800-yard freestyle relay team, Molloy completed his leg in 1:37.19, a Rider record. The team, which also featured his brother — sophomore freestyle and backstroke swimmer William Molloy — and sophomore freestyle swimmers Sam Cramer and Michael Regan, won the event in 6:38.65, a school and MAAC meet record.
Zack Molloy also broke records in the 500-yard freestyle race. He not only won MAAC gold with a time of 4:22.74, but the performance was a MAAC and NCAA ‘B’ Cut record. In addition, he also finished first in the 200-yard freestyle in 1:38.32 and he, along with sophomore freestyle swimmers Matthan-Matthew Martir and Ian Flynn, and senior fly/freestyle swimmer Shane Tubb, won the 200-yard freestyle relay in 1:21.40, a Rider and MAAC record.
Zack Molloy felt that even with the added circumstances of a conference championship on the line, he stayed focused.
“There was not really any more pressure on me than any other meet,” he said. “I just went in confident and trusted in my training for this year.”
Another key showing for the men came from the 200-yard medley relay team of Martir, Tubb, Flynn and junior breaststroke/freestyle swimmer Adam Phillips. They won MAAC gold in 1:30.24, breaking the Rider record set in last season’s first-place finish.
Fletcher said it was this first night that built the momentum the team was able to ride on all throughout the four-day meet.
“The tone of the meet was really set on the first night for the men,” Fletcher said. “That session was just two relays and we won both those relays and set both school and conference records in both those relays, and Zack led off the 800 free relay with a conference record-setting 200-yard freestyle time. So I think it was really that first night and it was more of a team effort — both those relays and the significance of them winning those events, breaking conference records — you can imagine the energy the team had.”
Other top performances from the team included William Molloy finishing runner-up in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:38.95, Cramer coming in second in the 1000-yard freestyle in 9:20.32 and third in the 500-yard freestyle in 4:31.22 and junior diver Wayco Bailey, who placed third on the three-meter board with a score of 286.20.
While the women’s team was unable to win the title, they did not leave the competition without strong performances of their own. The team of senior backstroke/freestyle swimmer Carlee Oswald, junior breaststroke/individual medley swimmer Taylor Shelley, sophomore freestyle/fly swimmer Ariana Palmer and sophomore freestyle swimmer Jacquelynn Parker finished fourth in the 200-yard medley relay in 1:47.16, qualifying them for ECACs. The 800-yard freestyle relay team of freshman freestyle swimmer Hannah Bayer, sophomore freestyle swimmer Courtney Reed, junior individual medley/fly swimmer Kaitlyn O’Connor and senior breaststroke/individual medley swimmer Morgan Kandrac also qualified for ECACs by placing seventh with a time of 7:56.02.
Sophomore diver Heather Lonkert scored 255.10 in the three-meter dive, finishing third. Junior fly/backstroke swimmer Erin Westcott finished fourth in the 100-yard fly in 58.72 seconds.
“As the season went on, we were hit with some sicknesses, injuries, and personal issues that definitely were not in the plan,” Palmer said. “So going into MAACs, we all had a lot on our mind, knowing that we did not have our full team with us.”
Fletcher says while he has no immediate expectations for the men’s team to win a fifth consecutive title yet, the goal is still to have both the men’s and women’s teams win MAAC titles in the same season.
“We’re a combined program,” Fletcher said. “We have combined coaching. We train together, we compete together, travel together and there’s very much a synergy between those two programs that we as coaches try to engender.”
While the MAAC portion of the season has concluded, there are more events ahead, including the ECAC Championships, which will be held at the University of Pittsburgh Feb. 27 – March 1 for qualifying athletes.