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Women’s swim and dive sets the tone under new leadership

From+left%2C+graduate+student+swimmer+Katie+Champagne+and+sophomore+diver+Eliza+Salus+are+each+looking+to+make+appearances+in+both+conference+and+national+competition.
Grace Condon
From left, graduate student swimmer Katie Champagne and sophomore diver Eliza Salus are each looking to make appearances in both conference and national competition.

Since 2017, Ithaca College athletics has competed as a member of the Liberty League. During this time, the college has won several Liberty League Championships across every sport in every season. The women’s swimming and diving program is one of those perennial championship teams and this season, they are looking to win their fifth straight Liberty League title.

Coming into his first year as head coach, Mike Blakely-Armitage 00 said he is looking to keep a tradition of providing the best overall experience for the coaching staff, as well as the student-athletes themselves.

“I feel very humbled to be the head coach of this program,” Blakely-Armitage said. “I swam for the program and being an alum is something that I view to be an extreme privilege. I feel honored to be able to lead this program that I care a lot about. I want to make sure that the student-athlete experience is very strong and I want to make sure that I’m maintaining that experience.”

After being promoted from associate head coach to head coach, Blakely-Armitage said his role with the team will not change, but that he has the ability to control the mindset of the team as well as promote strong decision making among the athletes.

“I have more control of our training, all of our groups, distances and disciples,” Blakely-Armitage said. “Trusting my [assistant coach Noah Beck] to give me reliable and critical feedback. I like working with him and having him tell me if he thinks the training will be suitable. I’m also going to be putting my own stamp on our team culture and I’m looking forward to maintaining high standards for a strong team and also making sure that the athletes feel supported in both their efforts in the pool and beyond.”

Blakely-Armitage said the program lost a large group of talent with the class of 2023 graduating, like All-American diver Karalyn Pawcio and freestyle Emily VanderSleen graduating, but that the emerging underclassmen will make up for that loss in the scoring department.

“We have a bunch of first-years and a strong sophomore class that had great experience last year and this year they will be tested,” Blakely-Armitage said. “I think they’re ready to take the lead culturally but also competitively in the pool. Samantha Bender is a first-year coming in and already making an impact. She’ll be one of our top sprinters and swimming some of our shorter stroke events. [first-year student] Alex Eakin is another first-year and a really solid distance swimmer.”

The program is coming off their first undefeated season since the 2019–20 season and sent four divers and five swimmers to the 2023 NCAA Division III Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. There, the Bombers crowned all nine athletes with first and second team All-American honors.

One of those All-American honorees was graduate student backstroke and individual medley swimmer Katie Champagne. Champagne said she kept the valuable experience of competing at nationals in the back of her head to serve as means for improvement. 

“It was pretty cool, I loved watching all of the fast swimmers from all of the different teams.” Champagne said. “The divers did amazing, the swimmers also did amazing, it was a really cool experience to be a part of. It definitely motivated me to come back this year as I’m excited and I want to be in that position again. Seeing how everyone was swimming fast was really cool to be a part of.”

Going into her final season, Champagne said she is focused on making sure she enjoys one last ride, avoiding the negative push from the high stress she usually puts on herself. 

“Definitely having fun, that was my main goal that I set for myself,” Champagne said. “I always put so much pressure on myself, so I’m going to have fun with it, enjoy the process and try to stay in the moment.”

After a strong showing by the divers who qualified for nationals in 2023, the team returns a healthy squad of divers looking for another huge season. One of those divers looking for a breakout season is sophomore Eliza Salus.

Salus said many of the divers have their eyes on returning to nationals, but that the focus is on the process of reaching that goal and enjoying the season through each meet.

“We’re just trying to enjoy the process. For a lot of us, nationals is definitely on the back of our minds, but I think that’s something that’s in a lot of ways out of our control,” Salus said. “We’re focused on that process and enjoying the time with our teammates and the progress that will be made throughout the season.”

Salus said not every diver has the access to a board over the summer, and in that case, it is important to train for the season in other ways. 

“For diving, it can be tricky because not everyone necessarily has a club they’ve practiced with or has boards they have access to easily,” Salus said. “A lot of it is trying to stay in shape physically as well as visualizing potentially diving if we’re not able to get on the boards and having that mental memory of the types of dives we’re doing. Physically and mentally doing that preparation so when we come back we can get right into it.”

The team opened its season Oct. 14 with wins over Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and William Smith at home, but dropped their next meet on Oct. 28 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Despite the loss, the Bombers bounced back on Nov. 4, defeating rival SUNY Cortland 203–90. The team will next face off with RIT at 1 p.m. Nov. 18 in Rochester, NY.



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Grace Condon, Assistant Photo Editor
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