Saint Vincent women's swimming goes unbeaten in PAC, focuses on league title
Saint Vincent swimmers trickled in and out of coach Josh Gurekovich's office Tuesday morning as he handed out new swim suits. The team, he explained, gets new suits each season for the Presidents' Athletic Conference championships.
After their breakout regular season, the women have high hopes of accessorizing those suits with a few gold medals. And maybe a trophy.
With their 182-112 win over Westminster on Saturday, the women completed the first undefeated (5-0) conference regular season in the program's 13-year history. Picked to finish third in the PAC, Saint Vincent will head into the conference championships Feb. 14 as the team to beat.
“I thought we could be pretty good,” said Gurekovich, the coach since the program's inception. “We lost a lot from last year, but a lot of the underclassmen have done really well.
“The women saw their goal and really put their whole mind into the goal.”
That goal became more tangible when the Bearcats defeated Grove City, the preseason favorite and nine-time defending conference champ, 149-113 on Oct. 28.
Freshman Marion D'Aurora won three individual events, including upsetting All-American Anne Shirley Dassow in the 100 fly. Juniors Maddie Bartrug (South Fayette) and Ciara Lewis (Elizabeth Forward) won two individual events each.
“It was like, ‘Maybe we can do this.' But once we beat Grove City, I think all of us thought we could absolutely meet our goals,” said senior Kelly Kramer (Bethel Park), the two-time defending PAC champion in the 200 IM. “I can't speak for my whole team, but that was the highlight of college swimming.”
Their unblemished conference mark is even more remarkable considering they start many meets with a deficit. The Bearcats don't have any divers.
Gurekovich said versatility helps to make up ground. He said he has a half dozen swimmers who are talented enough to compete in a variety of events depending on need.
Junior Sarah Sheldon (Gateway), the 2016 PAC champ in the 100 backstroke, said growth among the younger and less-experienced swimmers also has been crucial.
“This year, we've had so many strong swimmers come in, and all of the swimmers who were kind of in the middle (last season), they all stepped up so much,” she said. “I think more people are confident in their abilities … and I think they're just excited for PACs to see what they can do.”
Gurekovich said he expects PACs to be tightly contested. Experience tells him regular-season results don't mean much in the postseason, as each team's depth is tested.
But the women remain confident and focused on what they want to achieve. A first conference title is next on the list, followed by getting a competitor to the NCAA championships, something neither Saint Vincent program has done. (Brashear grad Jacob Davis, a junior on the men's team, has a shot at nationals, as he ranks fifth in Division III in the 100 free.)
“When you go to PACs, everything is up in the air,” Sheldon said. “You never know, but our team has done so well in regular meets that it's going to be insane to see what (times) they rip out at the conference meet.”
Added Kramer: “We're swimming for our teammates rather than for ourselves. We've always been team-oriented since I've been here, but this is probably the best year in terms of togetherness.”
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CCurti_Trib.