Gator swimming ends season at NCAC Championships

Emily Rice/The Campus
The Allegheny Gators prepare to jump into the water for a relay race during the 2018-19 Gator Invitational in the
Mellon Pool in the David V. Wise Center Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. With the inclusion of March 1, and 2, NCAA Diving Regionals, the Gators’ season spans five months.

The Allegheny College Swimming and Diving Team’s 2018-19 season recently came to a close. With that came a trip to the NCAC Championships, where the women’s team placed fifth and the men’s placed seventh. The team left campus Wednesday, Feb. 13, to travel to Denison University to compete in the five-day championships.

Max Niggel, head men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach, said he was pleased with how the team performed.

“This year marks one of our most successful years as far as conference standing for the women’s team,” Niggel said. “It was the most points they have scored for about a decade. We maintained our conference standing, but we shaved about 100 points off (from the gap between Allegheny and the next best college).”

The men’s swimming and diving team placed seventh out of 10 schools with 720 points overall. The women’s swimming and diving team earned 1005.5 points and placed fifth out of 10 schools.

While the Gators did not place higher than they usually do at the event, the gap between Allegheny and the next best school became much smaller, according to Niggel.

“The NCAC is one of the top conferences because of Kenyon and Denison being there,” Niggel said. Kenyon and Denison frequently perform at the top of the conference, so it is difficult for schools like Allegheny to place highly at the championship, according to Niggel.

Jack Van Meter, ’22, joined the team this year and echoed Niggel’s claim about performance.

“(The) end of season meet went really well,” Van Meter said. “Everyone had personal bests.”

Individual performances at the event stood out to many as a point of celebration.

“People were going for school records, national cuts, all that,” Van Meter said. “I did the 400-individual medley, the 500-freestyle, the 200-backstroke, and then I was on a couple of the relays.”

Van Meter and his teammate Will Visnic, ’22, qualified for the B-finals of the 200-yard backstroke event. Van Meter came in 15th place overall in that contest.

For seasoned swimmers, the event was a chance to look back on their multiple years of swimming and reflect on their improvement. Kaitlin Franzen, ’20, has been on the swimming team since her first year on campus.

“I think it went really well for me personally,” Franzen said. “I’ve only been back for two and a half months now, so I’ve jumped in on everything last minute.”

Franzen recently returned from a semester abroad in China, but she found it easy to jump back into training and adjust to the grueling schedule.

“At the beginning, I was really excited to be back,” Franzen said. “But then I had my moments when I was like, why am I doing this to myself?”

In spite of a few months off swimming, Franzen was still able to rely on her previous training, coaches and teammates to get back into the sport.

“I hit my same times as last year,” Franzen said. “I had to rely on my body being in OK shape coming back in. It was definitely not easy.”

Franzen noted the support she received from the team was one of the things that helped her and others succeed at the event.

“In the end, it really worked out well; my team is really supportive,” Franzen said.

Other teammates noticed the difference in team morale over the course of the season.

“We really pulled together on the last day,” Van Meter said.

While many on the team have been to the conference championships in years past, the newest class of swimmers and divers helped the Gators rack up points.

“The first-years did very well this year,” Niggel said. “I attribute that to the upperclassmen on our team and myself as a coach for preparing them for what this meet would be like.”

Niggel is new to Allegheny College as of September 2018. Niggel came to Allegheny after holding assistant coaching positions at Clarion University and Gannon University.

It was very hard to be at the pool during last year. With this new coach, it was a fresh start for everyone.

— Kaitlin Franzen, Class of 2020

“One of the things I took initiative on was communicating with the first-years in preparing them for this meet,” Niggel said.

Niggel came in to Allegheny wanting to improve the program dramatically.

“It was a dream come true,” Niggel said about becoming head coach.

Niggel implemented changes in and out of the pool in order to take a team that had a somewhat damaged morale, according to Franzen, and turn it into a successful team. The previous coach left Allegheny in July 2018 to go to the University of California at San Diego.

“Compared to last year, there was a lot of negative energy,” Franzen said. “It was very hard to be at the pool during last year. With this new coach, it was a fresh start for everyone.”

The team took notice of these changes. Better team morale and team cohesion were crucial to making the entire season, and this meet in particular, a success, according to Niggel.

Looking back on the entire season, many team members noticed a distinct improvement in how they performed.

Looking forward, Niggel and Franzen are excited for what next year has to bring.

“We’re not graduating that many seniors, and everybody that was close to a school record is back next year,” Niggel said.

Franzen will be back on the team for her final year. While she is grateful for the opportunity, she also realized how fast it went by.

“It’s kind of crazy that time has gone by so quick,” Franzen said. “Each year has been so different, especially in the pool.”