The long season has finally come to an end, and the University of Connecticut swimming and diving team has been rewarded for their hard work with a second place finish in the conference championships. Although they didn’t take home the gold, a silver at the Big East Championships isn’t anything to scoff at, and actually gives the Huskies hope with an eye toward the future.
UConn scored 1422.5 points on the weekend, which put them just behind Villanova, who had 1498 points. It was neck-and-neck the whole weekend, with the Wildcats and Huskies always within a hundred points of each other, making for some intense races with a lot on the line. It truly made for some entertaining and ultra-competitive swimming where the UConn women showed a lot of grit.
At the end of the first day, the Huskies held first place, and really showed the conference their capabilities. First, in the 200-yard medley, sophomore Kayla Mendonca, sophomore Angela Gambardella, senior Linnea Anderson and freshman Maggie Donlevy secured the team its first top-three finish, taking second and finishing just ahead of Georgetown’s squad. That was followed with some truly incredible diving, where freshman Julia Pioso would steal the show and place first in the three-meter dive, while sophomore Analaura Faoro and sophomore Elisabeth Katz would take second and fifth in that event, gaining a huge score boost in the process. The team rounded off a fantastic first day with a third place finish in the 800-yard relay, thanks to junior Mia Galat, sophomore Melissa Lowry, Mendonca and sophomore Niamh Hofland. Things were looking up for the women.
Day two would be a whole lot slower, however. The team had some overall good swimming, but only a couple performances really stood out: Hofland placed second in the endurance-testing 500-yard freestyle, while Donlevy sprinted her way to fourth place in the 50-yard freestyle. The two young guns pulled the team through times of lacking energy, and proved to be spark plugs as they brought an immense amount of energy into their races — which was very important for the next day of races.
Day three, the final day of races, brought the fight out of the Huskies: Though they were down by roughly a hundred points Saturday morning, they never gave up and continued to inch their score closer and closer to that of Villanova. Hofland started the rally off with a podium in the 400-yard individual medley, landing in fourth place. In the next race, junior Charlotte Proceller, Anderson and senior Grace Ali took fourth, fifth and sixth, grabbing a big chunk of points in one fell swoop. Then, the Huskies would finally get their first gold medal of the Championships: Gambardella and senior Katelyn Walsh, who broke a pool record in the last regular season meet of the season, crushed the 100-yard breaststroke and took first and second, respectively. Finally, though the championship was mathematically out of reach by this point, Ali still showed tremendous effort in grabbing the silver medal in the 200-yard butterfly event.
Even though UConn lost the Big East Championships by a small margin, there were still plenty of bright spots for the team. Not only did the underclassmen swimmers show lots of talent, the diving team was the real deal, with diving coach Josh Arndt and Pioso taking home individual accolades for an outstanding season. Though no team ever aims for second, the Huskies should ultimately be very proud and look forward to the future of their program with a great deal of hope and optimism.