Making a splash
Banners cover the walls at Burdick Pool. Many have the words “Women’s Swimming” streamed across them. Only a few men’s swimming banners appear, a couple belonging to Aaron Krause, one of the most decorated male swimmers in school history, who swam in the early 2000s.
These banners paint a picture of a dominant women’s swimming team at Towson, but leave no indication of an illustrious men’s history. There simply hasn’t been much to cheer about in the past decade of men’s swimming at Towson.
However, when both teams hit the pool Wednesday for the Colonial Athletic Association Championships, they brought a 24-3 combined record. Both teams came into the championships looking to compete for first place.
The women boast a 13-1 record, including a 3-0 sweep of CAA opponents. Led by senior and reigning CAA Swimmer of the Year Kaitlin Burke, junior Amanda Barber and a slew of other top performers, the
Tigers will be one of the favorites to win the CAA crown.
“We’re going to expect a fight, but we do expect to come out on top,” senior Cassie Sorna said.
The men went 11-2 with a 1-1 record in the CAA behind high scorers like junior Matt Lowe and sophomore Matt McKenney. Towson will be competing against teams like UNC Wilmington, which has won 12 straight conference titles, and William & Mary for CAA supremacy.
“We’re a competitive team. There’s no doubt about that, and I think we’ll prove that this week,” sophomore men’s captain Sawyer Martin said.
Both teams are heading into the championship with confidence, but the banners at Burdick pool suggest it hasn’t always been this way.
From the 2007-08 season to last year, the women’s team went 71-7 in the regular season and captured five CAA Championships. In that time, the men put together a total record of 11-59 and didn’t finish higher
than sixth place in any CAA Championship, adding a few last-place finishes.
Recent history for the Tigers suggests that the women’s and men’s teams are polar opposites, yet they stand on relatively equal ground in 2014. With only four swimmers graduating from last year’s men’s squad, how did it improve so much in so little time?
Head Coach Pat Mead points to the Old Dominion meet on Oct. 26, just a week after staying close with reigning CAA runner-up William & Mary. The men came out with a 163.50-128.50 win over the Monarchs and a new confidence.
“I think that’s when it kind of clicked,” Mead said. “The freshmen began to maybe understand what I was telling and the upperclassmen, who had not seen or believed that they could win starting to say, ‘Oh wow, we’re actually pretty good this year. From there, it began to feed on itself.”
The freshman class of nine, including Nick Breschi, Matt Brinton and Jeremy Liu, began to establish itself during the first few meets of the season, which gave a boost to the rest of the men’s side.
After the Old Dominion meet, the Tigers rallied off six straight victories, including a 215-116 win over CAA foe College of Charleston. The Tigers finished the season with 11 wins, the most for the men since the 1981-82 campaign, when they went 12-0.
Such a successful season has been rewarding for both sides of the team. Burke, who has swam some of the best times in school history, said that watching the men’s team was one of her career highlights.
“That’s honestly one of the most exciting things [I’ve seen] since being here for four years. The success that they are finally starting to see has been a long time in the making,” Burke said. “I think they are starting to have the same expectations of winning that we do, which is cool to see.”
This excitement, especially at meets, has been echoed by many on the women’s team. Mead said that, with the success of both teams, the dynamic of dual meets has changed drastically.
“Having the men’s team be as competitive as they are this year, it makes the excitement of the dual meets a lot better,” Mead said. “In years past, the women would do their event and win, then our guys would step up and lose momentum. . . [Now] if it’s a close meet and both teams are doing well, then the guys are cheering for the girls and vice versa.”
With a turnaround as quick as the men’s team had, it may be easy to forget the run that the women’s team is having. Going into the CAA Championships, Towson has won five of six championships.
Led by Burke and six other seniors, the Tigers started the season with 12 consecutive wins before falling to Penn State. According to the record, it still only ranks as the second best season in school history,
behind a 14-1 record in 2010-11.
Unlike the men’s team, it is the upperclassmen that make Towson stronger. Swimmers like seniors Kendall Towe, Melanie Rowland, Courtney Sepich and Sorna have posted some of the best times in Towson history, contributing to the 47-5 overall record since 2010.
Already swimming for two championship teams in three years, these seniors will look to end their time with the Tigers with another win and continue the dynasty that is the women’s team. However, the emergence of the men’s team has generated even more confidence and excitement than before. Both teams will have a chance to show that off this week.
According to Sorna, the entire make up of the team has changed.
“It’s not a men’s and a women’s team anymore,” Sorna said. “It is one team.”