By Paul Mullin
The women’s swimming and diving team won the 2009 MAAC Championship, edging out Marist by 11.5 points and ending the Red Foxes’ five-year reign as MAAC Champions.
The men’s team placed second, finishing 81.5 points behind champion and host team Loyola. Together the two teams were responsible for 21 of the 36 records broken during the three-day competition.
“I think the team is obviously excited about their performance,” said Head Coach Steve Fletcher. “I feel like the championship meets are close each year, so it feels good to kind of get over the fence a little bit and actually win one.”
The women’s championship is the first since 2003, which also came under Fletcher’s tutelage, and is the result of a steady performance that kept the women’s team in possession of the first place spot throughout the three-day competition.
Fletcher was named the Men’s and Women’s MAAC Coach of the Year for the second time in his eight-year tenure at Rider. He has also been named MAAC Men’s Coach of the Year twice, in 2004 and 2005.
“I think the conference recognizes the performance of the athletes and in doing so also recognizes the coaches, so I really think it’s the athletes winning the award for the coaches, and I think it’s a staff award,” he said.
Diving Coach Dennis Ceppa earned the MAAC Diving Coach of the Year award for the fourth time in his six years as Rider’s diving coach.
“Personally I think the award is more a testament to my divers than to me,” Ceppa said. “To me it meant that we learned as a team and took the experience from last year [when we didn’t get the award] and went, ‘Okay what can we do to get it back,’ and we did get it back.”
And in a not-so-surprising turn of events, Ceppa’s current best student, junior diver Amanda Burke, kept padding her competitive résumé, claiming gold and MAAC records in both the one- and three-meter dives, and was named MAAC Female Most Outstanding Diver of the Meet for the second year running.
“It felt amazing that the hard work and dedication payed off,” Burke said. “Some people on the team gave four years of hard work and made a lot of sacrifices, and winning this year finally paid off.”
For the swimmers, senior Priscilla Modrov continued her winning ways, taking the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys (IM) and the 200-meter fly, all in MAAC record times, earning her MAAC Female Most Outstanding Performer of the Meet honors for the second consecutive year.
“It still hasn’t hit me that we won MAACs this year,” Modrov said. “Going into the meet, I knew we had a good chance, but it would come down to everyone performing at their best. After four years, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to finish my college swimming career.”
A very big plus for the women, and the reason why they were ultimately able to bring home the biggest trophy, was their relay teams.
On day one of the competition, the 200-meter freestyle team of Modrov, sophomore Brianna Burns, junior Kellyanne Tomasula and senior Ericka Kriedel won in a MAAC record time, as did the 400-meter medley relay team, consisting of Modrov, Burns, Tomasula and sophomore Carmen Menendez.
The picture remained much the same on day two, with the 800-meter freestyle team of Modrov, Burns, sophomore Alicia Fimple and freshman Kori Kraus setting a MAAC record in their win and Tomasula, Menendez, Kriedel and sophomore Raquel Riestra taking second in the 200-meter medley.
But day three was their shining moment. With the Broncs holding a slim 2.5-point margin over Marist heading into the final event of the championship, Modrov, Burns, Fimple and Tomasula won the 400-meter freestyle relay with a MAAC and Loyola pool record time, sealing the deal for Rider.
“Before the last relay, we all knew the outcome of the race would decide the meet,” Modrov said. “We had to win. We all definitely felt the pressure, but we knew we could do it. We had the four fastest girls in the conference on the relay, which gave us confidence. We not only won, but we dominated that relay. It was a great feeling.”
Tomasula also found individual success, breaking a record held by U.S. Olympian Katie Hull in the 200-meter backstroke.
“A Rider athlete breaking a pool record held by a U.S. Olympian is pretty amazing,” Fletcher said. “It’s a great accomplishment and certainly a credit to her.”
Sophomore Drew Modrov was the star for the men, winning the 50-, 100- and 200-meter freestyles, setting new MAAC records in the 50 and 200. He was also in on two MAAC record-setting wins as part of the 200- and 400-meter freestyle relay teams, for both of which he was teamed up with junior Scott Player, senior Josh Rosenbluth and junior Brian Brady.
But Drew Modrov topped even his own expectations when he broke two pool records over the course of the meet that were previously set by 14-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps in 2003. Phelps was a volunteer assistant coach for the Loyola team that year.
“Prior to MAACs I had certain goals in mind that, if I achieved them, I would have broken both pool records held by Michael Phelps, but thinking about it and actually breaking them are two different things,” Drew Modrov said.
On day one, Drew Modrov’s preliminary time of 19.73 in the 50-meter freestyle edged out Phelps’ 20.15, and on day three he squeaked by the Olympian’s record time of 44.27 in the 100-meter freestyle by just one one-hundredth of a second (44.26).
For his efforts, Drew Modrov was named the MAAC Male Most Outstanding Performer of the Meet for the first time, an honor he knows he will have to work hard to earn again.
“It’s hard to win the award once let alone repeat because the competition is fast and they’re only getting faster,” he said. “The only thing I can do to give myself a chance to win the award again next year is train right, work harder, listen to my coaches and have the desire to win it more than anyone else.”
And to top off their winning weekend, Priscilla and Drew Modrov each received the Counsilman-Hunsaker National Swimmer of the Week award from CollegeSwimming.com on Tuesday. They were two of six athletes from around the country to earn the honor based on their performances from Feb. 9 to 15, and are the first sister-and-brother pair to do so.
“They keep blazing new territory in terms of awards and this is certainly new territory for Rider swimming and diving, being recognized in that manner,” Fletcher said.
The next step for the Broncs is the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships, starting Friday, Feb. 27.