The core seniors for the Seton Hall swimming and diving team could not have envisioned a better finish to their careers, as the season-long pursuit for the men to repeat as Big East champions was successful, while the women finished third once again. All told, seven program records were broken in the team’s triumphant three days at the Spire Institute in Geneva, Ohio from Feb. 21-24.
Coming off of an identical weekend in the spring of 2017, seniors such as men’s swimmer Noah Yanchulis and women’s swimmer Sydney Simpson knew the Pirates could not rest on their laurels if they wished to repeat the success they had last year.
Yanchulis, who was instrumental in both championship runs, talked about the keys to maintaining the right mentality throughout the season, as well as during the championship meet which tested the resolve of the men’s swimmers.
“[The key] is just staying focused,” Yanchulis said. “We won last year, so we knew we had the ability to repeat, but it was just about staying hungry and making sure we weren’t getting complacent…we wanted to continue to get better.”
Four Pirate swimmers traveled to the United States Swimming Winter Nationals earlier in the season, including Yanchulis and Simpson, where they faced competition that demanded the very best out of them. National records were set at the meet, and the competitors included international athletes and American Olympians.
Yanchulis, who swam at Nationals, cited how different it was to compete against the quality of swimmers that were present at Nationals.
“[It was] a really great experience,” Yanchulis said. “We swam against much faster competition than we were used to, and it was a humbling experience”.
The experience that Yanchulis acquired from the Nationals proved invaluable at the conference championship meet, as heading into the last day, the Pirates trailed Villanova by a slim margin. Going into the meet’s final races, Yanchulis and the others knew it would take a strong team effort to retake the lead and keep the trophy in South Orange for another year.
With “a lot of heart, and a little bit of luck,” as Yanchulis put it, the Pirates claimed the top three places in the 100-yard freestyle, and won both the 200-yard butterfly and 200-yard breaststroke to reclaim the lead and clinch the championship from Villanova. Seton Hall finished with a score of 777 points, just beating out Villanova who finished with 749.5.
The women’s swimming and diving team also had a successful season, as it finished third in the Big East championship and broke several program records. Head coach Derek Sapp earned the honor of conference Co-Coach of the Year this season, and senior Sydney Simpson underlined his importance in the team’s improvement this year.
“I think the biggest thing is he’s helped with a lot of the little things,” Simpson said. “In the past, we’ve been very big picture and like, ‘This is what everyone needs to do.’ He’s focused more on individual stroke techniques, or that little thing you can do to drop half a second.”
The changes, as subtle as they may have been, led to major achievements, including a second-consecutive third place finish, wherein the closed the gap with rival Georgetown.
While Yanchulis, Simpson and several other Pirate swimmers and divers have finished their collegiate careers and will graduate this spring, both were very positive about what the future holds for the program.
Simpson praised the freshmen and sophomores on the women’s side who played part in record-breaking relays in their first or second seasons, while Yanchulis took pride in the culture the program has built during his time at Seton Hall.
According to them, the future is in good hands with the program built on the right principles.
“I hope that the culture stays positive and [revolves] around swimming,” Yanchulis said. “I think over the last four years our senior class has built up a pretty good environment where people are excited to swim, people are excited to swim fast. And I hope that the legacy of the team continues to be a team that excels in the pool and in the classroom. That’s the reputation that we want to have.”
Kyle Beck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @notkylebeck.