University of Richmond’s swimming and diving team won its sixth straight Atlantic 10 Conference Championship last weekend, accumulating 14 titles in the past 15 years. Re-visiting Geneva, Ohio, the team returned to Richmond with the most points since 2012, outlasting second-place Duquesne by 166.5 points.
“We swam really, really well,” Richmond coach Matt Barany said. He won the A-10 Coach of the Year award again and has now won it six times during his time at Richmond.
Barany stressed that no two years were ever the same. This year, the team headed into the championships as the underdog with Duquesne predicted to win, according to the A-10 entry list.
Hannah Matheson, a junior transfer from Penn State who won two silvers in the 200-meter Fly and 200-meter IM, said that it was a little bit unnerving heading into the season’s biggest meet projected to lose. But her confidence in her training helped ease the nerves.
“The way our program works is just different from other schools,” Matheson said. “We don’t rest until the end of the season when other teams have mid-season breaks, and it paid off this time.”
The team’s taper started three weeks before the A-10 championship. In a typical training week, the team practices for 20 hours a week, including three morning practices that begin at 5:30 a.m., five afternoon practices and a longer Saturday practice beginning at 7 a.m. and ending at 11 a.m., which consists of running, swimming and lifting.
Even as a taper helps the body rest before a competition, freshman swimmer Nicole Piercy admitted that staying mentally positive was crucial leading up to the meet.
“The majority of the time, the mental aspect of swimming is harder than the physical part,” Piercy said. “Our training was still purposeful and intense, but it placed a lot of focus on pacing and race strategies instead of quantity.”
In Piercy’s first conference championship, she was named the Most Outstanding Rookie Performer for scoring 46 points and winning two medals, one of which was silver in the 800-meter relay.
Irina Chiulli, a junior diver, agreed with Piercy and returned to Richmond with her second A-10 title in the 3M diving event. “Being mentally sharp in the sense of being aware of your body and what you have to do to nail a dive is paramount,” Chiulli said.
And the Spiders did just that. Over the course of the four-day meet, Richmond led wire-to-wire from the beginning. The Spiders made it a goal to win each day by having the most points. They reached it, and achieved many personal goals as well.
Barany was in awe after seeing his athletes’ performances. “It’s surprising to me because many of them wrote down their goal times before the meet and most hit them, if not surpassed them,” Barany said.
He said that each season he and the coaching staff created an in-depth plan that they hoped would work come the end of the year, even though they never truly knew what would happen in each given season.
“What we found this year was that a lot of those decisions were very good decisions,” Barany said.
But it’s not just this, after sitting down with any team member it becomes evident how inclusive this group is. With four senior leaders graduating, however, the team will need to fill an “empty space without them,” Piercy said.
Melissa Ross, Molly McSweeney, Emma Terwilliger and Kelley Yang are the four seniors that led the Spiders to another championship, finishing their collegiate careers as four-time Atlantic 10 Champions.
Ross, who has been competitively swimming for 17 years, finished her competitive career this past weekend as a swimmer, but said she was going to miss her swimming and diving teammates more than she would miss swimming.
“Having 20-plus sisters makes it easy to get out of bed at 5:30 a.m.,” Ross said.
Terwilliger, who has swam competitively for 16 years, echoed Ross’s sentiment.
“In 20 years I won’t remember bad practices as clearly, I will forget my times and places and eventually winning an A-10 Championship will become a distant memory,” Terwilliger said. “But I will remember each other and the bonds I made with my teammates.”
Barany said the seniors this year would be sorely missed next year. “On one hand we have an artist and on the other we have a medical-school student,” Barany said, speaking of Ross and Yang. “Does it get much more exciting than that?”
Barany said he was not worried about the team’s future.
Matheson, who was nicknamed the team’s “honorary freshman,” hopes she can be someone to fill this role.
“I want to basically be what the seniors were to us this year,” Matheson said. “They can leave comfortably knowing that we’ll be okay. But it’s only because of them.”
Contact sports editor Charlie Broaddus at firstname.lastname@example.org