For anyone who is into Disney and Pixar movies, particularly “Finding Nemo,” Dory’s famous line, “Just keep swimming,” rings true for plenty of situations in life, but especially here.
In 2020, during the peak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, that is all the Montclair State University men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams could do, with the stands flashing red and white instead of being filled with excited family and friends.
The men’s team ended at 2-1 and the women’s team ended at 3-1, which were overall good performances from a year where it was anything but normal, especially within athletics. Now that the swimming and diving teams are experiencing a more familiar season, their excitement can be easily seen in their strong performances.
Currently, the men’s team sits at a 3-2 record, while the women sit at a 3-2-1 record. Senior freestyle/backstroke swimmer Taylor Waddleton talked about how the renewed energy of having fans back in the stands has helped their performance this season compared to last.
“I think having fans in the stands is motivating us,” Waddleton said. “We have other sports teams, friends and family [watching us] and even just the noise bouncing off the walls and hearing it in the water — it’s a lot better. And because we get that support from other sports, it has been rewarding.”
Before the teams could go out and face other opponents in front of their supporting fans, the men and the women had an intrasquad meet, where their only opponents were themselves. Having that time before the season starts to get used to the pools again is certainly helpful, and Hannah Geib, a freshman diver, explained how useful it was for her and the teams.
“Having that meet before the season started, since that was my first swimming meet in college, it helped to get my nerves out,” Geib said. “And, it helped me to meet all of my teammates. Overall, it was a good way to start the season.”
The men’s and women’s teams started off their season against the Lions of The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), which ended in losses for both sides. However, Waddleton did collect a victory in the 1,000 freestyle match, and Abby Brock, a freshman specializing in breaststroke, earned a first-place win. Freshman freestyle swimmer Brandon Do even won his first meet in his collegiate career.
This has been a common theme for the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams this season: the success of their freshmen. On the women’s side, Brock has won New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Rookie of the Week already; Amber Rocheleau, a freestyle swimmer, won it twice this season; and Juliana Skopp-Cardillo, another freestyle swimmer, received the honor for the Red Hawks as well.
On the men’s side, Do has received the NJAC Rookie of the Week multiple times; Lucas Gomes, a freestyle and butterfly swimmer, just recently received the honor for the team; and junior Alex Pallen won NJAC Diver of the Week as well.
Pallen is in a special situation with Montclair State, as he is the only diver on the men’s side, and with one year left for him, the Red Hawks are going to need to find a replacement sooner rather than later.
Pallen spoke about how the teams are doing so far this season, and how he manages with being the lone diver on the team.
“This year has definitely been challenging considering I am the only diver on the men’s side,” Pallen said. “But, it just helps motivate me and make me work even harder. I [also] have all the support from the swimmers, [which] motivates me even more. Me placing first in an event helps boost the men’s score and gives us a better chance at winning. So, it has been good being that only guy and helping the team win.”
So far, the men’s side picked up three straight victories against Moravian University, Drew University and Vassar College, with Pallen sweeping in the diving events in the meet against Moravian. Later on, Montclair State lost to Rowan University in the NJAC matchups.
As for the women’s side, they also beat Moravian and Vassar but dropped the meet against Drew University. They then tied against Rowan at 150 points apiece and went on to beat Kean University for Montclair State’s first win against a conference opponent on either side this season.
As for the Franklin & Marshall Invite last week, the men’s team finished seventh out of nine competitors and the women placed ninth out of 11.
With both teams’ next meet not occurring until Dec. 10 against The College Of Staten Island, the Red Hawks will have plenty of time to rest up before their last meet of the calendar year. Head coach of the men’s team Brian McLaughlin explained the game plan moving forward as the Metropolitan Championship approaches.
“We’ve chosen to not rest completely,” McLaughlin said. “Nor are we going to shave or wear technical suits. So, we’re doing what’s called ‘swimming through it,’ rather than treating it as a true championship. Our real championship is the [Metropolitan Championships] in February. The men have been healthy and have been playing cohesively, and that’s why they have been so successful this season.”