As of Oct. 10, the Albion College swim and dive team’s season has been underway, and both the men’s and women’s teams have competed in five meets. The men have won two of the five, while also earning a second place finish in the MIAA relays in Grand Rapids. The women have two wins and also claimed two second place finishes.
The men’s team only features three seniors: Blake Blair, a Marshall, Mich. native, Jenison, Mich. native Mike Crinion and Justin DuChene from Marine City, Mich. Along with six juniors and five sophomores, the number of first-year swimmers triple that of the seniors. With nine freshmen, the future looks bright for the Brits’ swim team.
“We returned three All-Americans,” Head Coach Jake Taber said. “We’re very fortunate that we feel like we’ve addressed our biggest area of need from last year and turned our biggest weakness into one of our greatest strengths, which is in both diving events.”
The roster features two state champion divers who both have NCAA regional cuts thus far in the season. Chelsea, Mich., first-year Jake Burris has two regional cuts and has qualified for regionals in February, and Marshall first-year Henry Swett also has one.
Taber is also excited about the swimmers in the pool as well. Albion has four relays that are ranked within the top 14 in the country, and he expects that the team will be as good as their depth when MIAA championships take place in February.
The captains of the men’s team are Blake Blair and Holland, Mich., junior Derek Bosko. Both captains were chosen by their teammates for many reasons but the biggest being their work ethic.
“I think Blake’s work ethic is inspiring,” Taber said. “He can beat people more talented than him because he isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves. Derek is pretty relatable because he can look at scenarios subjectively. And I’m not sure the team would vote on this, but Derek’s swimming experiences may be something that the team looks to as well.”
Bosko, a two-time MIAA team member and honorable mention All-American, won the MIAA Swimmer of the Week award for the week of Nov. 2-8, as well as DIII National Swimmer of the Week, per collegeswimming.com.
“If Derek were here, he’d say that his performances over the weekend don’t happen without his teammates, without being challenged day in and day out. It’s nice for the program. And we’re excited, but we don’t want to get distracted by it,” Taber said.
With any sport, ushering in a new freshmen class can be difficult because new athletes need to get acclimated with their teammates, coaches and environment. For some teams it’s easier than others, but Coach Taber said that the upperclassmen have taken to the freshmen right away. The coaches talked with the leadership team before the season, and the upperclassmen wanted to make sure there was a sense of team right when they got on campus. This feeling makes their transition easier and also holds the team more accountable, which makes it easier to focus on the sport earlier in the year.
The women’s team also has a large first-year class — of the 30 total swimmers, 12 are first-years. The four seniors include Allen Park, Mich., Haley DeFeyter, Milan, Mich., Anna Hargrove, Woodhaven, Mich., Lauren Pawelec and East Grand Rapids Claire Wittkowski. Eight sophomores and six juniors round out the team, and with a good mix of each class, the upperclassmen leadership should be strong in the coming years.
“There’s a lot of excitement coming into this year and largely based around our freshman class,” Taber said. “Last year our best individual class was the freshman, and we feel that the same is going to be the case this year. We’ve got a good group of leaders returning and a talented group of freshmen and sophomores that are starting to buy in and hopefully take us to the next level.”
Hargrove and Wittkowski are the team captains for the women. Taber sees the qualities of the men’s captains in the women’s captains as well. Wittkowski has a team-first mentality which is can be inspiring to a team.
“Claire might not always swim her favorite events, but she swims the events that will have the greatest impact on the team and doesn’t think twice about it.”
In her fourth year, Hargrove has been through some adversity, according to Taber. She set an MIAA record her freshman year and won a conference title, which she repeated in her sophomore year.
“She knows the program incredibly well,” Taber said. “She can handle almost anything I throw at her.”
Instead of keeping the men’s and women’s teams separate, Albion has a true program where the men and women can get along simultaneously. The support from the opposite gender is extremely important to create a close-knit family and a fun, supportive and competitive atmosphere.
In terms of leadership, Albion’s upperclassmen have their hands full with 21 new first-years coming in. This will be Taber’s fourth year coaching at Albion, so he feels that nothing should be lost in translation from the seniors to the first-years. It helps with the seniors; they have what they know about how he coaches and what he expects from his athletes. It also helps to convey a consistent message to the first-year athletes about what the program is.
“I think the closeness of the two teams really enhances our training environment. For a season that’s as long as ours, being in a fun and supportive environment makes it a little easier to work a little harder,” Taber said.
Photo by Steve Marowski