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Bombers shatter multiple records at the Liberty League championships

The+Ithaca+College+mens+and+womens+swimming+and+diving+team+competed+in+the+2023+Liberty+League+Championships+from+Feb.+15%E2%80%9318.+In+the+2024+season%2C+they+went+beyond+their+results+breaking+nine+team+records+and+a+pool+record.
Thomas Kerrigan
The Ithaca College men’s and women’s swimming and diving team competed in the 2023 Liberty League Championships from Feb. 15–18. In the 2024 season, they went beyond their results breaking nine team records and a pool record.

During a week of fierce competition, the Ithaca College men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams displayed remarkable dominance. The women’s team came up on top among nine teams, while the men’s team just missed first place, trailing the Rochester Institute of Technology by a mere 72 points.

The Liberty League Championship lasted four days from Feb. 21–24, and during that time, nine team records and one pool record were broken. Additionally, four swimmers from the men’s team punched their ticket to compete in the NCAA Championship from March 20–23.

Seniors James Collishaw and Mikey Paulos, junior Matthew Mitros and first-year student Alec Kutsner secured national qualification in the 200 freestyle relays. Additionally, Collishaw earned an individual qualification for the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke. At the Liberty League Championships, the group of four broke team records in the 200 Medley relay, 400 Medley relay and the 200 freestyle relay. 

Paulos, who also broke a 28-year-old team record set by former NCAA champion Colin Herlihy ’96 in the 100 breaststroke event by 0.01 seconds, said he is cherishing this moment especially during his senior year. Collishaw and Paulos also said they have known each other since 7th grade and were competing on the same club team prior to joining the South Hill squad.

“It’s awesome,” Paulos said. “[It’s] just something I’ve been doing my whole life and to go out on a bang like this for my senior year, just completely, [is] like the coolest thing. And putting together four guys on those relays is also the coolest thing … because we kind of talked about those records all year long.”

Head coach Mike Blakely-Armitage explained the preparation for the Liberty League Championships. Since the training starts in August, most of the physical preparation is done beforehand, with swimmers receiving training based on their specialities and what they are best at. Prior to the championships, rest is prioritized so most of the swimmers can feel energized and stronger. 

Blakely-Armitage emphasized a mental aspect of training while they were there at the meet. Blakley-Armitage said that getting his swimmers and divers in the right mindset is one of the most important aspects and that he would do it in exciting ways, such as hosting karaoke of “Don’t Stop Believing” by the band Journey.

“The championship meet is sort of like a celebration of their whole season in a way and getting them to be a little bit looser and not so nervous and just kind of celebrating it,” Blakely-Armitage said. “We actually, for one of our team meetings during the meet, we did a karaoke party. Like to loosen people up because they’re really nervous. And I thought it was really good like it really helped them to kind of relax and I think people were nervous because there were some swims that weren’t so great. And so we’re like, ‘Okay, we got to do something to loosen this up.’” 

First-year student Kathleen Papiernik competed in the championship for the first time, and with first-year student Samantha Bender and sophomores Angela Merch and Naomi Fry, they broke a team record in the 800 freestyle relay that was previously broken by a group of all first-year students, according to Blakely-Armitage.

Despite a demanding schedule, which required them to attend the Athletics and Events center twice each day, Papiernik said the best part was all the enthusiasm brought into it.

“It was honestly just the energy and just the pure excitement of every single session the entire four days,” Papiernik said. “It was just a beautiful thing to see. … It was, of course, very stressful and it was very new as the first-year. I was like, ‘There’s a lot of people up there, this is a little scary. I was supposed to go fast, but like, I’m a little nervous.’ And just coming into like a new area and same sport but a different team, it’s nerve wracking and you want to doubt yourself and you want to doubt your training, but just throughout the entire weekend I was like,  ‘Ok, yeah, this is awesome.’ I’m so happy to be here and I’m so grateful to be on this specific team and it’s just awesome.”

On top of breaking a team record, Collishaw also broke a Liberty League record for the 50 freestyle event with a time of 19.87, after losing to previous record holder RIT’s junior swimmer Mike Atanasoff in last year’s Liberty League Championship.

“I actually lost that race last year to the guy who set the association record before, and that was just a big goal of mine,” Collishaw said. “Breaking 20 [seconds] has always been almost like the end goal for me. And so just to be able to do that and at our home pool, it was awesome.”

Paulos spoke on the new coaching regime here at the college and how that impacted player’s performances during the championships. He said that while the retirement of former head coach Kevin Markwadt was a big hit to the team, Blakely-Armitage has really stepped up.

“Losing [Markwardt] definitely wasn’t the greatest, but Mike definitely stepped up,” Paulos said. “He changed up, he kind of modernized the workouts a little bit this year, which I definitely think helped a little more like sprint and power focus, which was good for me and the relays because those relays are sprint oriented. And I think the main thing is just the culture that we have, though, you know, on our team, everybody’s best friends, like, nobody has beef or anything. You know, everybody kind of just has one goal. And we all just love each other to death and training with each other every day just makes us closer as a team. Very tight-knit. I think that’s the biggest contributor to our success.”

Looking ahead to nationals, Blakely-Armitage wants his squad to compete and make an impact, no matter the size. He said the biggest factor is not taking the moment itself for granted.

“I think something that was lacking last year is that people were just happy to be there,” Blakely-Armitage said. “And I don’t think everybody there was in that mode, but I think a lot of people were just, ‘Oh, it’s so cool to be at Nationals.’ And instead of like being there to compete, and I think that’s going to be our main message this year: ‘We’re competing.’ We’re not going to just, you know, travel to North Carolina, to be in Greensboro, but we’re there to make a mark even if it’s small.”

On the diving side of things, Kailee Payne continued her success breaking a whooping three team records in the 3-meter 6 dive total, the 3-meter 11 dive total and the 1-meter 11 dive total. Payne, who said she sprained her ankle a week before, has been working hard to finish her season even with some pain. With the tight schedule, Payne said the championship process was grueling at some points, but she stayed focused with the enthusiasm from her coaches and teammates.

“It was definitely tiring but it was also just a blessing to be there,” Payne said. “I’m so happy with the environment that I’m in. I’m so glad I transferred. It’s amazing to be surrounded by the people that I am, so appreciating everyone’s presence walking, swimming, hearing everyone cheering at the top of their lungs. While it was tiring, it was also such a high energy environment that really kept me going. And I loved what I was doing. I love diving. So I was truly upbeat the entire time. I just I was so appreciative to be there.”

While swimmers have been selected for nationals, divers still have one more trial with Regionals being March 1–2. Payne explained the process that goes into divers getting selected for nationals. First, a diver has to qualify for regionals by achieving two qualifying scores either on the 1-meter diving board or the 3-meter diving board. During Regionals, divers have to place in the top five in their region to go to Nationals.

Looking ahead to regionals on March 1, Payne said while she hopes to qualify for Nationals, however, it will not diminish the success she has been able to achieve this season.

“The only goal I have is to make it to Nationals, and maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t,” Payne said. “I really hope it will. But it will not be a failure if I don’t make it to Nationals. So it’s absolutely a goal, but it will not be a failure because I’ve already had a successful season and this meet will not make or break that so if I make it to Nationals, that’ll be amazing, but I’m proud of myself for where I am so far.”

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