The CUNY Swimming Dynasty

From CUNY Athletics

Michael Phelps’ eight gold medals. Natalie Coughlin’s evolution into an international superstar. Record-breaking performances and thrilling finishes. The 2008 Beijing Olympics brought swimming to the American sporting culture forefront and finally, one of CUNY’s most anticipated seasons is upon us. As we prepare for the 2012 London Olympics, the CUNYAC women’s swimming and diving season is bound to rekindle the emotions and exhilaration from the Beijing Olympics. The season is less than a month away and the battle for conference supremacy promises to be a season-long battle. Between powerhouses Baruch and Hunter and promising risers, such as Staten Island and Lehman, the women’s swimming and diving 2011-2012 season should be one of the best in recent memory.

The Baruch Bearcats return as the defending champions and must be considered the favorites for the CUNYAC championship. They graduated only three seniors, albeit all CUNYAC All-Stars, and return six All-Stars to a team with championship pedigree, experience and immense talent. Among the returning All-Stars is reigning Women’s Performer of the Year and Championship Swimmer of the Meet, senior Priscilla Arana. Arana dominated the competition last year as she excelled in the 200 yard freestyle, the 200 yard medley relay, the 400 yard individual medley, the 100 yard breaststroke, the 800 yard freestyle relay, 200 yard breaststroke and the 400 yard freestyle relay. She already owns 9 All-Time Baruch records, both in individual races and in relays, and will be looking to surpass her previous records and add to her collection. In addition to Arana, Baruch returns last year’s co-captain Olga Gaitskhoki, who adds much needed experience to the Bearcats. The Bearcats have an outstanding core of young athletes who will only continue to improve. Their development as a team and the defense of their 2010-2011 championship will be stories to watch all year long.

The Hunter Hawks enter the 2011-2012 season in an unfamiliar position: underdogs. The Hawks have been the crème de la crème of the CUNY Athletic Conference throughout the 2000s, before their spectacular run was unexpectedly halted by the Bearcats. The Hawks were nothing less than a dynasty for the greater part of the last decade, culminating in eight of nine CUNYAC women’s swimming and diving championships between 2001 and 2009. Coming off back-to-back second place finishes to Baruch, the Hawks will be seeking revenge. If the Hawks are to win, they will need a team-wide effort with contributions from all. If anyone can do it, Hunter sophomore and backstroker Helena Mapoy believes, it’s the Hawks: “A team’s success doesn’t happen overnight. Everyone has to put their efforts into building a winning team. We all have to do our part, and that’s why everyone is important to the team,” said Mapoy.

The Hawks finished the 2011 season with five All-Stars, four of which are returning, and have been heavily recruiting as well. The returning All-Stars include junior Briana DiGiore, who finished 2011 with two swimmer of the week honors, and sophomore Jennifer Dzurita who was outstanding in the CUNYAC championships as a freshman. If the Hawks can develop their returning swimmers into stars, they have the ability to shatter Baruch’s aspirations of another championship.

Behind the Bearcats and the Hawks, Staten Island finished 2011 as 4-2 in the division and 5-5 overall. Both their CUNY division losses came to Baruch and Hunter and they will need an infusion of young talent if they hope to overtake these two giants in the near future. Lehman finished the season very strong, winning two of their final three matches (their only loss coming to Division II Queens College) and barely being edged out by CSI, 112-107 before that. Lehman also took third in the CUNYAC Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships and will be looking to take the next step this season. Finally, Brooklyn returned to varsity status in 2010-2011 and struggled, but with a new coach and returning rookie of the year Valentina Monroy, they too should continue to ascend. These three teams are raw and inexperienced but as they continue to face each other and build confidence, they can become legitimate threats in due time.

The Baruch Bearcats and the Hunter Hawks have been the models of success throughout the last ten years and their rivalry can potentially reach new heights this season. With both teams returning multiple All-Stars and seeking the renowned CUNYAC swimming championship, both teams are legitimate threats to reach supremacy. “I think our greatest strength is in our spirit. The captains and the coaches do a really good job in their talks to us, keeping us confident in winning and respectful in losing,” Mapoy said.

The rising teams in Staten Island, Lehman and Brooklyn will also be much improved and that makes the division as exciting as it has been in years. The battle for conference supremacy will surely come down to the CUNYAC women’s swimming and diving championships in February, and the regular season will hold a significant purpose as both Baruch and Hunter will be looking to separate themselves from the pack. The 2011-2012 season is positioned to be exhilarating all the way through. Baruch would cement its legacy as a dynasty with a third consecutive championship. Hunter will look to regain their status as CUNYAC champions, the first step towards rebuilding themselves into a powerhouse and mounting a run reminiscent of their dynasty in the 2000’s. Between the breaststrokes, backstrokes, individual medleys and medley relays, each team will bring out the best in each other, leading to new records and down to the wire finishes, making this season special and potentially, historical.

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