Freshman Katelyn Strauss helped the St. Thomas women’s swimming and diving team claim its first-ever conference title Saturday after a record-breaking three-day meet at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center, breaking Gustavus’ six-year winning streak.
On top of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship, the Tommies tore up the record books, breaking more than a dozen school, conference and division records, one of which was 25 years old. The men’s team captured the title as well, a first-ever double for UST.
Strauss attributes the team’s success to extremely high expectations set by the non-conference St. Thomas swimmers two weeks prior.
“We had our swimmers who didn’t swim at this meet swim at the Minnesota Challenge meet about two weeks ago,” Strauss said. “We all came and watched them swim and they just destroyed the meet. They did so well and everyone just dropped so much time.”
The Tommies didn’t disappoint. Strauss said “the team had been meeting or exceeding” all expectations. This included the women’s 500 freestyle, in which Strauss took first in both the preliminary and final race, all the while crushing the St. Thomas school record. She said this race set the tone for her high energy throughout the weekend, as she didn’t expect to perform as well as she did.
“I just remember looking up at the board and thinking, ‘Oh my God, what just happened?’” she said. “It was so exciting, and honestly I don’t remember swimming it at all, I just remember finishing and looking at the board and being completely shocked.”
Sophomore Nicole Herrli had a successful weekend as well, breaking the St. Thomas school record in the 400 individual medley. Her time in the race also met the NCAA B cut time, potentially qualifying her for the post-season meet. Herrli said she’s proud of her personal accomplishment.
“I think one of my goals for at least one of my four years here at St. Thomas is definitely to go to the NCAA (tournament),” Herrli said. “This year, my times probably aren’t quite fast enough, but I think my performance has set me up really well for next year, which is exciting.”
As one of many record-breakers, Herrli credited the team’s support for its success.
“Swimming when you’re more relaxed and confident relieves the pressure to perform,” Herrli said. “As a team, we wanted to come in and win, but there was no feeling of disappointing each other if we didn’t do things perfectly.”
Strauss added that the team’s intensive, year-long training made the team stand out.
“We’ve been in the water since captain’s practice started in September, and then we started our actual season Oct. 1,” Strauss said. “I don’t think people realize how long our season actually is. In January we’d be lifting in the morning and swimming in the afternoon – sometimes we’d swim twice a day.”
The persistent training paid off for other Tommie swimmers. Strauss, senior Emma Paulson, freshman Alex Howard and freshman Mira Schroeder shattered the St. Thomas school record and broke the all-time MIAC record in the 800 freestyle medley. Paulson also broke her own record in the 50 freestyle, swimming the fastest the year in Division III, and she was named swimmer of the year in the championships.
The Tommies will take this energy and hardware into the NCAA Championships, which begin March 16. Herrli expects big things from her team with the momentum from this weekend.
“It’s going to be so great, especially beating a team as good as Gustavus,” Herrli said. “This is the first time the (St. Thomas) women have ever won conference. I’m excited to see what happens. I think everyone has a newfound excitement for swimming.”
The Tommies’ final score was 873.5 points, followed by rivals Gustavus and St. Olaf with 693 and 485.5 points, respectively.
The men’s team added its fourth MIAC championship in seven years.
Senior Mike Lanz and sophomore Andrew Grabowski were honored as the MIAC’s Swimmer and Diver of the year, respectively.
Lanz won the 100 fly for the third straight year. He was also part of two record-breaking squads, the 200 medley relay and the 800 free relay. Members of that team consisted of senior Tom Osmolak, senior Max Hamilton and junior Luke Schneeman. The 800 free relay team had sophomores Brady Anderson, Warren Melton and Bailey Biwer.
Hamilton broke the school’s oldest record, a 29-year-old mark, in the 100 breast on Friday.
Lauren Andrego can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org