By Ben Hercik, Sports Editor
The Cleveland State University swimming and diving teams spent last week competing at the Horizon League Championships, hosted by Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. However, they did so without head coach Paul Johnson, who has been at the helm of the program for the past six seasons. Johnson resigned on Feb. 9. Whether he resigned by his own accord, or was forced to choose between resigning or being fired, it is currently unclear.
Leading the swimmers into the conference championships was acting head coach Kevin Rapien, who has been with the program for the past seven years as an assistant coach. The swimmers could not let a coaching change distract them from the task at hand, and that was trying to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
There are two ways that swimmers can qualify for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. If they post a time that meets the A Standard for individuals performances or Qualifying Times for relay teams, they automatically qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA also sets a B Standard for individual performances and Provisional Times for relay teams. If the swimmers meet this mark, they have to wait to see if their times are faster than other swimmers who also met these standards.
For the men, junior Matthew Martin, senior Jared Stergar, sophomore Dominik Niedzialek and sophomore Diver Matthew Akers all posted B Standard times and scores. Martin won the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 47.41, finishing 0.51 seconds over second place. Martin also finished fifth in the 200-yard butterfly. Stergar won the 100-yard breaststroke, posting a time of 54.27, beating second place by nine-hundredths of a second. Stergar also finished ninth in the 200-yard version of the same event. Niedzialek finished third in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 48:26, beating the B Standard by 0.23 seconds. Akers posted a score of 330.10 in the one meter dive and finished eleventh in the three meter dive.
Many other swimmers on the men’s team had great performances. Sophomore Timmy Kubacki finished second in the 400-yard individual medley and third in the 200-yard backstroke. In the 400-yard freestyle relay, senior Sean Mulvin, junior Jack MacDonald, senior Jason Van Der Touw and junior Erwan Mahoudo posted a time of 3:00.16 placing second. In the 50-yard freestyle, junior Dominic Poletta posted a time of 20.57, good enough for fourth in the event. Poletta also finished fifth in the 100-yard butterfly, with a time of 48.65. The men did have one miscue, occuring in the 200-yard freestyle relay, composed of Poletta, MacDonald, junior DJ Arslanian and sophomore Ryan Sedlak. One of the swimmers left the starting post too early, immediately disqualifying them. The team was seeded at a time of 1:21.23, which was the fastest time, making them the top seed prior to the race. As a team, the men finished second, 220.5 points behind the champions, Oakland University.
Senior Molly McNamara was once again the star for the women’s team. McNamara posted a 53.50 in the 100-yard butterfly, good enough to earn a B Standard time. McNamara also won the 200-yard individual medley and the 200-yard butterfly. McNamara also swam in four different relay races, with three of those four finishing in the top three. Her performance in the tournament netted her a second straight athlete of the year as well as winning the women’s swimmer of the meet. McNamara is the first women’s swimmer to earn athlete of the year in back to back years and the first Viking swimmer to win swimmer of the year since the turn of the century.
While McNamara was the star of the meet, the Vikings had other women who had solid performances as well. Senior Cassie Oltman finished second in the 100-yard backstroke, with freshman teammate Riley Drummond finishing fifth in the same race. Freshman Agnes Bahr finished third in the 400-yard individual medley with a time of 4:26.76. Sophomore Lexie Kostelnik finished third in the 1650-yard freestyle, posting a time of 17:03.89. Rounding out the swimmers who finished in the top four in their events was sophomore Libby Smith, who finished fourth in the 200-yard breaststroke.
The next step for Martin, Stergar, Niedzialek, Akers and McNamara is to wait and see if their name will be one of the ones selected to participate in the NCAA Tournament. The quartet from the men’s team has to wait until March 13 to know their fate, while McNamara only has to wait until March 6 to know if she gets to swim for Cleveland State one last time.