By David Roberts
It has been almost half a decade since the last NJAC championship was earned by the swim team. This was not the first time this team has faced adversity, but no one expected the 2020-21 season to be what it was.
Despite the clearance for the season, these student athletes were sailing into uncharted waters. This swim season would be one like no other.
During the offseason, skepticism was on the rage thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. For the swimmers, there were many unknowns.
Would student-athletes be allowed on campus? Would practices have to be modified? Would there even be a season to compete in?
“It was pretty exciting when we found out that we would have a season, considering the previous six or seven months were so wildly different than what we are used to,” said senior accounting major and swimmer Pat Bakey.
“We typically start in late September and swim six days a week all the way until the end of February, with some guys going until mid/end of March if they qualify for NCAAs,” Bakey said. “This training was way different than anything in the past because we did not have any meets scheduled and did not know if we would even be able to race this year.”
It seemed like the odds were stacked against the Lions. With no weight room, limited training, virtual classes and an uncertain schedule, the swimmers were going against the current. Instead of flailing under pressure, they collected themselves and pulled each other forward. Sights were set on the NJAC championship as the team charged into the season.
“Once we got back to campus in January, we were all pretty hyped up to all be together again for the first time in ten months and we knew that an NJAC Championship was a serious possibility this season,” said senior business management major and swimmer Andrew Thompson. “At practice everyone was just pushing each other day in and day out even when we had a rough day or week of training. Coach Dow also did a great job of getting everyone ready to race for our meets this spring semester and that really showed last weekend.”
With a 203-120 victory over Montclair State, the Lions took back the NJAC title. For these seniors, it was the best way to finish out their collegiate careers.
“For me it was the fact that this is my last season,” Bakey said. “I can’t put off graduation to swim another year. It’s a cruel twist of fate that we got stuck with these times during our years swimming but at the end of the day you only get 4 years of college swimming and this one was my last. I wanted to go out as best I could.”
Alongside the championship, Thompson earned himself his fourth NJAC Swimmer of the Week Award and capped his season with multiple national standings, with a time of 49.03 in the 100-fly ranking third nationally, a time of 6:51.30 in the 800-free relay ranking third nationally, and a time of 1:51.54 in the 200-back, ranking 10th in the country.
“We knew that this team was very talented and knew that we could accomplish some goals that we had as a team, even in a shortened season,” Thompson added.
The student athletes stared down the barrel of adversity this season. In doing so, they set an example for students, athletes and student athletes alike to follow.
“This past weekend made all the headaches worth it, and trust me, there were plenty of times it seemed like it wasn’t worth it,” Bakey said. “I’m happy we made it to last weekend and so proud of the performance the team put up. Especially considering the obstacles we had to jump through leading right up to the meet, it’s extremely impressive the times everyone was able to throw down to make an NJAC championship happen.”
Some swimmers were more optimistic than others, not without some frustration of course. “I definitely expected to have a season and it was tough and frustrating as it continually got pushed back. The way this season culminated made me thankful I stuck it out, though,” Bakery said.
When Bakey found out the season was green-lit for sure, he felt the “momentum” leading up to opening day. This gave some sense of normalcy to the school year as well, even if classes were all virtual.
“We started to push each other like we normally would and aspire to some quick times. Even after the two weeks off leading into the conference meet, those last few days made us forget about the fact that a wrench was thrown in our training and we still managed to show up and swim fast,” Bakey said.
And succeed they did.
We knew that this team was very talented and knew that we could accomplish some goals that we had as a team, even in a shortened season,” added Thompson.