College swimming and diving teams prepare for new season

Waking up before 6 a.m. may not be appealing to anyone, but the Allegheny Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Team practices at that time three days a week. The team has been working both in and out of the pool as its 2019 season is nearly underway.

Head Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Coach Max Niggel, who has been the head coach since September 2018, said he feels grateful to be an integral part of the swimming and diving team at Allegheny College.

“I’ve actually always wanted to coach at (Allegheny),” Niggel said. “It was awesome when it worked out last summer. I had my sights on Allegheny for a long time. That’s the sincere truth.”

A former student-athlete for Edinboro University, Niggel had successful campaigns as the assistant coach at Clarion University and Gannon University. During his tenure at Clarion, the women’s team won five PSAC titles, including the first two female titles in school history.

His coaching philosophy, which has led to so much success in his career, is to make every decision with a purpose, according to Niggel.

“Everything that I do, I make that decision for what is best for the program,” Niggel said. “Every set, every action, every decision has an intention and a purpose.”

One of the main reasons why the swimming and diving team has such an early lifting schedule and late practices is because of scheduling. In other words, coach Niggel is trying to find times that the team can practice together. He tries to find the right balance between hard work and fun. In addition to scheduling team-building activities, Niggel said he tries to avoid physically or mentally overwhelming players with practices every day and says that he has a perceptive understanding of the student-athlete workload.

Miranda Farley, ’20, who competes in sprints, mid-distance and individual medley, said coach Niggel is the right person for the job. One of the exercises during practice involves 12 100-meter sprints where each lap needs to be finished in 1 minute and 10 seconds. The only break the swimmers get is the remaining time between the laps. This exercise focuses on pace and mental strength.

Farley credits coach Niggel for his ingenuity and the extra push.

“Sometimes you are not just self-motivated, and you need that kick in the butt (from coach Niggel) to get yourself going,” Farley said.

Farley already has quite the work ethic, and to have someone that pushes her to get better means a lot to her. Farley was a four-time district qualifier and state qualifier her senior year. At Allegheny, Farley was named College Swimming Conference Player of the Week in 2017, and placed sixth in the NCAC championship the same year. Now in her senior year, Farley believes the team can place at least top 3 in the NCAC.

“We have good momentum right now, and I think the girls can move up in the conference this year,” Farley said.

Farley’s teammate, Chelsea Pietrzycki, ’21, who is a diver, said she is hopeful of the current first-year class and next year’s first-year class.

“This year we focused a lot on recruiting, and I think this year we brought in a strong freshman class, especially on the girls’ side,” Pietrzycki said. “So, I think with the recruiting this year, if we work hard we can bring in another good class.”

Pietrzycki has high expectations for the team and of herself as well. Her goals have been a formidable factor in her high school and collegiate success. In her hometown of Parma, Ohio, Pietrzycki won the sectional championship in diving and was also The Plain Dealer Athlete of the Week in 2015. Pietrzycki said she aspires to qualify for Nationals this year in diving.

Pietrzycki credits getting through her first year as one of the biggest factors for her success. Besides adapting to college life, she also had to adapt to diving at the collegiate level.

“Freshman year was a really hard year for me just because that was a year I had to learn my really hard college dives,” Pietrzycki said. “Since then I have grown a lot.”

Similar to Pietrzycki, fellow third-year Ben Blackburn, ’21, who competes in breaststroke, freestyle and individual medley, said he also feels proud of how much he has grown as a swimmer. He attributed his success as an athlete to his coaches in high school.

“(My high school coaches) just kept telling me what I could do and what I could accomplish,” Blackburn said. “They helped me along the way.”

That “can do” attitude led him to winning All-State honors in his hometown, and being named team captain. During his collegiate career, Blackburn placed eighth in the Pennsylvania AA State Championship in 2016. Blackburn said he fully expects himself and the team to be successful within the conference.

“Based on the intrasquad and based on the practices, we are all doing very well, and we have gotten a boost from the first-year class,” Blackburn said.

Building on Blackburn’s and all the interviewee’s remarks, the team looks strong all-around, ranging from each class and position, as everyone feels confident and ready for this season. The Gators dive headfirst into their first swim meet Friday, Oct. 11, and Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Grove City Fall Classic in what they hope to be one of their best seasons yet.