Often overlooked with regards to some of the top athletic programs here at Montclair State University, both the men’s and women’s swim teams have proven this year that they are an emerging threat in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC).
For the men’s squad, a 3-5 record may be frowned upon when you look at just their season. However, the team has had a fairly tough schedule this season, featuring two Division I opponents in Seton Hall and Monmouth University, and the eventual NJAC champion Rowan University.
However, Montclair State did have quality conference wins over teams such as Ramapo College and William Paterson University to finish the dual meet season off.
Senior captain Mick VanOosten, who specializes in the freestyle and backstroke events, agreed that competing against these strong programs helped motivate them later in the season.
“Swimming in these faster and competitive [dual] meets only motivated us to get better,” VanOosten said. “We wanted to beat those guys at Metropolitan Championship.”
Speaking of Metropolitan Championships, the team did not disappoint, placing sixth out of 14 teams in a very competitive championship meet. It was highlighted by a fifth-place finish from the 400 freestyle relay led by seniors Charles Cobbett and Kevin Henningsen, as well as freshman Greg Karback and senior Hunter Romanowski.
Along with the three seniors, the men’s team will face an additional loss of six seniors to graduation next year, including Kevin Clauss, who holds the record for the 100 backstroke. Many of these seniors have played an integral role to the team this season, and many underclassmen will have to fill the void next season.
VanOosten believes the team is in good hands with the returning swimmers coming back, citing swimmers such as senior Kevin Gibson and freshmen Karback and Lazaro Valades to help lead the team next season.
Brian McLaughlin, head coach of the men’s and women’s swim teams, has maintained realistic expectations for the men’s program heading into next season.
“With the loss of nine seniors, we are aspiring to go .500 or better next season in dual meets, as well as moving up in the Metropolitan Championship,” McLaughlin said.
As for the women’s program, the team has easily been one of the most underrated athletic programs that Montclair State has had. After having a highly successful season last year, the women’s team finished with a respectable 5-3 record with a 4-1 record in conference play this season.
The dual meet season was highlighted by a signature win over powerhouse The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), 161-128. This was one of the biggest wins of the seasons, considering TCNJ is a perennial regional power in swimming as well as in the NJAC. This was the second straight win against the team after breaking a 30-year win drought against them last year.
The team was highly talented from top to bottom, but the main star of the team was diver Grace Nielsen, one of the best female athletes here at Montclair State. She has had a plethora of accomplishments and awards to her name, including countless Diver of the Week and All-Conference selections. She will be returning to the Division III Northeast Regional Championships in hopes of qualifying for nationals for the second straight year.
However, her most recent accomplishment, winning Diver of the Meet at the Metropolitan Championships, only adds to her amazing legacy here at Montclair State.
Her secret to success? Consistency.
“Staying consistent has always been my key. I’m just always trusting in the training and process,” Nielsen said. “My coaches have been pushing me to do things that they’ve known that I could always do.”
Speaking of the coaching staff, McLaughlin also maintains that her supporting cast has been exceptional.
“We have two diving coaches, Krystlin Swift and Jenny Ullman, who have done a great job with her,” McLaughlin said.
As for the future, the team looks to be in good hands with swimmers such as junior Maddie Franke, sophomore Emily Rothamel and freshman Taylor Waddleton all stepping up big time this season for the team. Franke broke the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle records this past season, and her times have dropped tremendously.
Waddleton has credited the coaching staff and the quality training they have provided the team.
“I’ve had problems swimming smarter rather than harder during meets, but the coaches have helped me swim a lot smarter in meets this season,” Waddleton said.
With the loss of only two seniors this year, Franke believes this is just the start of big things to come for the women’s swim program.
“Going into next year we now have the confidence to beat teams like Ramapo and TCNJ, and [and look forward to] even giving Rowan a run for their money at NJAC title,” Franke said.