The CCIW conference championship meet on Feb. 27 marked the third and final chance for Wheaton swimmers to compete against other teams this season. The changing COVID-19 regulations for college athletes permitted meets only in the second half of the season, from Jan. 13 until Feb. 27. The national meet, which is usually held in March, was also canceled.
In years past, the conference meet was hosted at the Pleasant Prairie RecPlex Center in Wisconsin, 65 miles north of Wheaton, with all six teams present. The team would stay overnight at a nearby hotel until the last session on Saturday night. This year’s CCIW swimming championship consisted of teams split between races at Wheaton’s Lederhouse Natatorium and Carthage College’s Koenitzer Aquatic Center in Kenosha, Wis. to facilitate social distancing requirements. Instead of three days, it all took place in one day.
Wheaton hosted Illinois Wesleyan University and North Central College for their portion of the event, while Carthage hosted Millikin University, Carroll University and Augustana College. Individual champions were determined by combining the athletes’ recorded times at the two race locations.
The CCIW website notes that because this year’s adapted championship happened all in one day rather than the usual three, the event was not a “true” conference meet. As a result, the posted times from these races will not appear in CCIW record books and no overall team awards were designated.
Wheaton’s COVID rules — which do not permit team travel for meets — presented challenges for some swimmers when preparing for the championship.
“It’s fun having home meets, but I always compete better when I’m in a different place. I see it as more of a meet rather than swimming in the same pool that we practice in,” said Megan Peters, a junior economics major.
Others felt less affected by the restrictions, with some swimmers noting the convenience of competing at home.
“I appreciate not having to go anywhere,” said freshman political science major Anthony Fitzgerald. “If the protections are necessary to have as many meets as we’ve had, I’m totally fine with that.”
New occupancy limits on the pool deck also prompted changes to the team’s swim practices in advance of the tournament. Although the men’s and women’s teams usually practice together, the state government’s Phase 4 restrictions, which limit indoor gatherings to 50 people or fewer, forced separation between the teams.
Swimmers were instructed to wear masks on deck until the moment they got into the water. Lanes that usually held five to six people only allowed two, one person starting on the diving side and one starting on the bulkhead. Team worship also became a socially distanced event. No more than ten swimmers gathered at a time due to masking and distancing.
Some swimmers reported that the new COVID regulations affected their sense of team camaraderie.
“We’re not able to do as much team activities together,” said Peters. “Normally we’ll do team worship every week and all these fun activities where we can really get to know each other, but this year has been really tough because of all the regulations.”
Others said teammates still found ways to bond.
“Although COVID is so negative, I think we have grown so much closer and relied on each other,” said sophomore business and economics major Abby Pardridge. “It’s really allowed all of us to cherish the time that we have together.”
The limited competitions this year motivated Head Swim Coach Jacob Ayers to implement more intrasquad races in practices. “They were great at racing each other,” Ayers said. “A lot of fast times have come along with it.”
The team’s perseverance through a strange season paid off in the CCIW championship. Many Wheaton swimmers claimed top positions in their individual races.
Fitzgerald placed first in the men’s 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 55.56 seconds, setting a new school record for the event, and Pardridge posted the winning time of 2:05.86 in the women’s 200-yard backstroke.
Other notable races include freshman Connor Davis’s effort of 52.49 seconds to win the men’s 100-yard backstroke, while junior Priscilla Min won the women’s 400-yard individual medley with a time of 4:39.41.
According to Ayers, the quality races at conference were an added bonus to the teams’ primary hopes for the unusual season.
“I told them from the beginning that our number one goal is that everybody stays healthy,” explained Ayers. “The number two goal — and equally as important — was to maintain or rekindle a joy for the sport in ways that we never expected.”