By Jack Belanger ’21
One week after their opening race of the season was canceled, the Providence College Swimming and Diving Teams each had their first meet of the 2021 season. The men’s team fell to Bryant University, 169-119, and the women’s team lost to the University of Rhode Island, 165-108.
Out of the four first-place finishes for the men, three of those came from Justin Viotto ’22 in the 800- and 400-meter freestyle races as well as the 200-meter individual medley. The women were able to win five races during their meet. Katie Winklowski ’24 won two individual races, while the 200-yard freestyle team of Katie Thornton ’21, Sami Martin ’24, Lauren Zawacki ’21, and Jennifer Bankes ’22 also took first place.
Even though PC did not get the outcomes they were hoping to see, the teams are excited to be back in the pool after an extended break. On top of getting their season pushed back, the teams were not able to practice as an entire group, forcing swimmers to train on their own time.
“Typically, we have a practice week where most training groups lift twice a week,” said assistant coach Margaret Howe. “We really have not been able to lift at all this year.”
With the reduced number of team activities, several athletes have had to schedule gym sessions in the Concannon Fitness Center or run outside on their own. Howe also pointed out that the loss of full team activities has hurt the process of building team chemistry.
While every sport has had to make scheduling adjustments, the swimming and diving teams had to cut down some of their usual travel due to the varying COVID-19 protocols across different states and college campuses. The Friars were fortunate enough to schedule several dual meets with teams around New England that were within driving distance, including their annual rivalry meet against the College of the Holy Cross Crusaders.
Some of the notable returning swimmers include Viotto and captain Andrew Ferrell ’21 on the men’s side. Howe noted that Ferrell’s versatility to compete in a variety of events will be big for the team. Viotto currently holds four school records while Ferrell holds three.
As for the women, Zawacki and Sally Alrutz ’23 should help carry the team. Zawacki currently holds the school record for the 50-yard freestyle and is hoping to get a chance to break the 100-yard freestyle record at the Big East Swimming and Diving Championships. Alrutz currently holds the school record in the 100- and 200-yard backstroke events.
Howe also expressed her excitement for a recruiting class that brought 22 new swimmers to PC. “It’s crazy that we haven’t gotten to see any of them race [before the season],” she said. “But I’m looking forward to working with every single one of them.”
While uncertainty and adjustments due to COVID-19 can be sources of distraction, the coaches have made sure players are focused when it comes to practice and training.
“We are trying to create an environment where you are cheering for your teammates at practice or you are really going after the set you have on the board [during workouts]. We want to create that team atmosphere during practice. We want the sport to be a bright spot in all of the craziness that’s going on.”
COVID-19 has made it harder for the teams to practice together, but the coaches have made the best situation for their swimmers. Both Howe and head coach John O’Neill have committed to creating a program that provides all their athletes with a chance to improve and compete at a high level.