The University of Richmond women’s swimming and diving team won its eighth consecutive Atlantic 10 championship Saturday after beating seven A-10 records during four days of competition at the Flickinger Center in Buffalo, N.Y.
From the first event on Wednesday to the last event on Saturday, the lineup of junior Alex Helland, senior captain Lauren Beaudreau, junior captain Katie Sieben and freshman Charlotte Brackett set A-10 and school records in the 200-yard medley relay in 1 minute 40.17 seconds and the 400-yard freestyle relay in 3:22.87.
On Friday, they dropped six seconds off Richmond’s 400-yard medley relay time that had set the A-10 record the year before, winning in 3:40.34.
Beaudreau, who also won the 200-yard individual medley and the 100- and 200-yard breaststrokes, was named Female Performer of the Meet.
“Her last swim, the 200 breaststroke, it was probably the swim of the meet,” coach Matthew Barany said. “She lowered the A-10 standard by three seconds.”
With a time of 2:11.43, Beaudreau has won gold in the event each year. She also broke the A-10 record in the 200-yard individual medley in 2:00.11 and holds the A-10 record in the 100-yard breaststroke from 2007, when she was also named Performer of the Meet. She was Rookie Performer of the Meet as a freshman.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Beaudreau said. “It was like a storybook ending.”
But she said what made the meet special was that she wasn’t just focusing on her swims, though as a senior each was an emotional experience. Instead, what made it special was that each team member was emotionally invested in each other’s races.
Sometimes from the next lane.
Fellow senior captain Cara Smaniotto, whose times in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke moved her up to second and third on Richmond’s all-time list of breaststroke times behind Beaudreau, said she swam in the lane next to Beaudreau in both races.
“When I was behind her, I knew she was doing something crazy,” Smaniotto said.
Both seniors said this year’s team had been different from any other team they had been on, describing the team with the same word: selfless.
“We talk all year about being selfless, and I think it really came out this meet,” Smaniotto said.
Barany called the group cohesive and drama-free. They aren’t afraid to compliment each other, he said, to look one another in the eye and say, “I’m proud of you.”
Barany said examples of the abundance of friendly competition on the team were Helland and sophomore Nicole LePere. Helland broke the A-10 record in the 100-yard backstroke in 54.65, and LePere placed second. For the 200-yard backstroke, it was the reverse. Helland had broken the A-10 record in the preliminary morning round but then came in second to LePere, who re-set Helland’s morning record to win the final Saturday night in 1:58, Barany said.
“They’ve traded it off five times,” Barany said. “They’re more interested in motivating each other than deflating each other, which is fun to see.”
Sieben won the 100-yard butterfly in 54.06 and freshman Alexi Kuska won the 1650-yard freestyle in 16:52.91. That gave Richmond a total of seven first-place finishes in individual events.
It was the first time Richmond raced against any A-10 teams this season. According to Barany, this is because A-10 teams don’t challenge the Spiders swimmers.
“Quite frankly, I wouldn’t mind racing some of the boys teams,” Barany said before the meet.
Instead, the team looks for outside stimulation by racing teams that are better than it during the season and by setting goals.
The team made and reviewed personal and team goals each month, Smaniotto said, not just about swimming, but about how it wanted to act and be viewed. Sieben said they always worked to create a positive environment, to practice good sportsmanship and to react maturely no matter the outcome of the races.
“Since the first week of practice, they said they wanted to win all five relays at A-10s,” Barany said. During the next 25 weeks, the goal became to break all five relay records.
The team won four of five relays, set A-10 records in three and school records in four. The 200-yard freestyle relay team of Helland, LePere, Brackett and Sieben placed first in 1:33 on Thursday, and the 800-yard freestyle relay team of Beaudreau, sophomore Hannah Marlow, sophomore Elizabeth Hailand and sophomore Chrissy Brodt broke the school record in 7:27.63 for second place on Wednesday.
Barany credited the team’s quickness to adjust so they didn’t make the same mistakes twice. Placing second in the 800-yard freestyle relay on the first night motivated the team to perform well the following three nights, he said.
Beaudreau said the team accomplished almost all its goals, a list that winning didn’t top.
“We all really knew what the goal was this weekend, not just to win another championship, but to be excellent,” Beaudreau said.
Sieben said the team didn’t assume after being seven-time returning champions that it would win an eighth. The swimmers even had T-shirts that said, “The past doesn’t buy us anything.”
Barany said the team realized it was the process that counted, and the common denominator was working hard to be better.
“We don’t talk a lot of winning championships,” Barany said. “It’s the 25 weeks before that that really create why we care.”
As the swimmers practiced three and four in a lane the Friday before the meet with rap music blasting in the background of the warm natatorium, Barany said they were comfortable having swum the same schedule for 25 weeks and had worked a lot on physical and mental preparation to dispel fear and discomfort.
Before leaving practice, each swimmer high-fived Barany. He said he made sure to make contact with each swimmer every day as a way of nonverbal communication and saying good job.
At the meet, the swimmers’ way of saying good job to each other was giving bouncy balls to the superheroes of each session. Each choice had to be backed up with data, Beaudreau said.
Smaniotto noted freshman Kristina Lewis for dropping 15 seconds off her time in the 500-yard freestyle, a feat she said was unheard of in swimming. Beaudreau praised lone diver senior Julia Bizer for scoring three points in the 3-meter diving session. A four-year soccer player who joined the team this season, Bizer beat four people who dive year-round as their sport, Beaudreau said.
Each of Richmond’s 17 swimmers also competed, as the only A-10 restriction was an 18-person roster. The team earned 742 points to beat Fordham University and Duquesne University, which placed second and third, by almost 200 points.
Barany said a different team had placed second each of his four years of coaching at Richmond, noting how the fight for silver showed how hard it was to try to win each year.
“We have to be at our best every single year,” Barany said. “That’s all right.”
Barany credited Richmond’s championship tradition to recruiting. He said the recruiting efforts were not a product of the swim team, but a product of the school. A lot of the continuity comes from the ability to attract people with the same goals and work ethic, he said.
“We don’t have a lazy person on our team,” Barany said.
Beaudreau said she might have bought herself an extra four weeks of training by earning a “B-cut” with her 200-yard breaststroke time. That means that a top-30 ranking after all the different conference championships finish will qualify her for the NCAA championship, which will be held March 19 to 21 at Texas A&M University. Barany said she currently ranked 13th or 14th in the country and that it’d be hard to believe she’d be bumped out.
The medley relay team will try to qualify this weekend at what Barany called a last-chance meet at the University of Maryland during the ACC Championships. Barany said it’d be different without the heat of competition and because the team didn’t know who its competitors would be or if it’d have competitors at all, but he said he wouldn’t be surprised if the women swam faster.
“Richmond has never taken a relay team to the NCAAs,” Barany said. “I think these girls can do that.”
Contact staff writer Maura Bogue at email@example.com