CHICAGO – The list of achievements by the University of Chicago swimming and diving teams continues to grow with each passing year. All 48 team records have been broken since 2012; an individual NCAA event title on the women's side in 2014; a NCAA relay title for the men's squad in 2015.
The Maroons are now setting their sights on breaking into the top 10 at the NCAA Division III Championships. With a pair of top-10 preseason national rankings and a boatload of young talent in the fold, UChicago is primed to succeed in the 2017-18 season.
The recent release of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Division III preseason polls ranks the men at No. 7 and the women at No. 9. Those high placements reflect last year's success: both Maroon squads took 11th at the NCAA national meet, racking up 40 All-American honors along the way.
Now entering his 12th year leading both programs, Head Coach Jason Weber has overseen the rise of UChicago into a national power in the pool. He'll have plenty of proven swimmers to rely on once again.
The Maroon men have nine reigning All-Americans, including the junior trio of Alexander Farrell, Dalton Mitchell and Michael Todd. The rest are all sophomores – Taye Baldinazzo, Lance Culjat, Aaron Guo, Byrne Litschgi, Aidan Meara and Reona Yamaguchi. Among last year's rookies, Yamaguchi produced the top results at NCAAs by finishing fifth in the 100-yard breaststroke and eighth in the 200-yard breaststroke.
"The first-year men provided a huge boost to the team performance last year with some clutch performances throughout the season and some big swims at NCAAs," Weber said. "I expect that class to continue to improve and be a big factor in our success this year at UAAs and NCAAs. This year's incoming class on the men's side has some great talent as well and could finally propel our team into the top 10 at NCAAs."
On the women's side, UChicago graduated several of its all-time top swimmers, including multiple record holders Maya Scheidl and Alison Wall. That duo accounted for a combined 35 All-American honors and 14 school records over their four-year careers.
"Last year's senior class on the women's side, I believe, is the best class we've ever had in team history and I don't think we'll be able to fill their void immediately or, at least, in the events that they competed in," said Weber. "This year's incoming class is as talented and deep as we've ever had, so I do expect our team to be just as good, if not better; but we'll excel in different relays and events than we did last year. Overall, we'll have much better depth than we've had in the past as well."
The women's divers will be one area of particular strength. The triumvirate of Lo, junior Anna Girlich and senior Natalie DeMuro all qualified for last year's NCAA Diving Regionals. Lo's breakout debut campaign featured a pair of University Athletic Association (UAA) titles, UAA Diver of the Year accolades and top-seven finishes in the one-meter and three-meter dives at the NCAA Championships. Weber noted that Lo is currently adding some of the most difficult dives in the nation to her repertoire in an effort to become one of the top-scoring divers in Division III.
With the upperclassmen and team captains being counted on for leadership, Weber is also looking for all the athletes on his roster to contribute and play a factor in the team's success as the year progresses.
"The men have great depth in the breaststroke events and the 200 free, so it wouldn't be a surprise if we had three men score at NCAAs in the breaststroke events and have an All-American 800 free relay," Weber said. "Our men's 400 medley relay will also be in the mix with the top teams in Division III as well. While we don't have a ton of depth in sprint free, Alex Farrell is one of the top sprinters in the nation and will be a huge contributor for us in those events and on every relay he swims.
"On the women's side, we have excellent depth again in diving, with one of the best diving squads in Division III, and have added a lot of depth and speed in the breaststroke events," Weber continued. "First-year Margaret Wolfson has already shown that she'll be a top breaststroker in our conference and possibly at the NCAA level, while our medley relays this year have a chance to be very special."
Competition within the UAA will be challenging as usual. The CSCAA preseason national polls included six UAA men's teams among the top 25 – Emory University (No. 2), Washington University-St. Louis (No. 6), New York University (No. 7), Carnegie Mellon University (No. 12) and Case Western Reserve University (No. 25). The women have five teams in the rankings – Emory (No. 1), NYU (No. 5), Washington-St. Louis (No. 7), and Carnegie Mellon (No. 14).
The Emory men and women come in as the defending national team champions. The UAA Championships will be hosted by the Eagles in mid-February.
"Both the men and women should be deeper and more competitive than ever before [within the UAA]," Weber remarked. "I think the men have a chance to challenge Emory for the top spot, but WashU and NYU will be right there as well. The women have an excellent shot at getting back to that number two position, but NYU and WashU will also be right there in the mix."