As the fall sports seasons prepare for the home stretches of their respective seasons and the basketball teams prepare for their pre-season, the College of Staten Island Men’s & Women’s Swimming & Diving squads will be officially kicking off their campaigns in late October. CSI will officially usher in the season on October 23 against Pace University, and a handful of days later will travel for their first CUNYAC test against Baruch College, the men’s team first defense of their conference crown achieved a year ago.
“The excitement level is high this year,” commented Head Coach Michael Ackalitis. “Our teams really want to pick up where they left off last year and that has us anxious to get things started. Our numbers have improved on the men’s side and we were able to replace a lot of what we lost on the women’s side. We have big teams with talent and that’s a plus.”
Ackalitis has reason to be excited. Taking over midway through the 2011-12 season, Ackalitis has now had two full offseasons under his belt, and the two-time CUNYAC Coach of the Year acknowledges that his teams are stocked with dedicated and hard-working student-athletes looking to get better at every turn. That should bode well for a unit that certainly peaked at the tail end of last year, and yet still has plenty of upside attached to it.
“Our focus is to continue becoming even more than a team but an established program,” the coach said. “We’ve come a long way. We are starting two-a-day practices this season and everyone here is very excited about that. It’s a sign that we have the quantity and the quality that is dedicated to getting the job done and can’t wait to get to work.”
On the men’s side, the Dolphins were able to score a CUNYAC Championship for the first time since 2005 last year, finally showing off its depth in the pool. Outstanding seniors and multiple record-holders Danila Novikov and Andrey Tarasov will once again lead the charge. CUNYAC Rookie of the Year Tim Sweeney was a big reason for the success as well, as were fellow freshmen Derek Villa, Chris Pinto and Stephen O’Driscoll. Together with returners Leandre London, Sergio Miranda and diving dynamo John Pignatelli, Ackalitis thinks he has the foundation in place for plenty more awards and highlights by season’s end.
“It’s nice to see our veteran players and our younger players really contributing equally to our success and it shows that the hard work and dedication is trickling down,” the coach said. “We have great form as a team from top to bottom and winning the championship last year gave our guys a lot of confidence.”
CSI will also benefit from its new faces, according to the coach. Look for standouts Chris Sorenson and Brandon Lei to add an immediate impact in the pool, and Ackalitis is expecting a strong diving unit with addition Ayman El Haddad. For the coach, a return to championship form is not out of the question, but more importantly, the skipper wants to see the team improving with each meet, bettering its times with each passing wave.
“After last year we definitely have to shoot for the top. We didn’t graduate many players so that goal is realistic,” Ackalitis stated. “This year we will also focus on being more established at the Metro Championships, and that means we will need to get better week to week.”
On the women’s side, the goal for the unit, according to its coach, will be continuing its upward climb. The Dolphins have narrowed the gap over the last two years with perennial CUNYAC powers Baruch College, Hunter College and Lehman College, and now the coach wants to see the team continue its course. For the past two seasons, the team has placed third at the CUNYAC Championship.
“Our women’s team was all about getting more experienced last year,” Ackalitis said. “It was nice to see that as the women performed with each meet our confidence level started to rise, and by the time we reached the Championship, we were setting records and really coming together. That will help us going into this season.”
Like their male counterparts, the women bring along a healthy bedding of talent, include record holder Dakota Dawkins and solid contributors like Kelly Walsh, Naomi Gaggi, Caitlin McLoughlin, Hunter Dawkins, Olivia Brown and Tina Chen. Diving is also a source of major strength for the Dolphins, and CSI’s outstanding pair in April Bartlett and Stephanie Collyer will continue to lead the way.
“Having two outstanding senior divers has made a huge impact on our program,” he said. “On top of that competition, we have a collection of swimmers who know what it’s like to perform well and we are expecting bigger and better things from all of our returning athletes.”
Of course, for the Dolphins to advance up the standings, their new contributors will need to pay healthy dividends. Look for Ewa Wojciehowska to have a huge impact and produce right away, and newcomer and three-sport start Victoria Crea is expected to be another force on the diving boards. Together with the returning talent, Ackalitis is hoping the learning curve is minimal and CSI contends out of the gate.
“The goal is to take things to the next level,” the coach said. “We have been stuck in third place the last two years and we are hoping to close that gap and make a serious run at a title.”
All told, it should be a quality campaign for the two sides, one that Ackalitis hopes will lead to quality championship runs both at the CUNYAC and Metropolitan Swimming & Diving Championships.
“The Metro Championship is a lot bigger than the CUNYAC Championship and it puts into perspective where we really want to be as a competitive program. We expect to have fun, but you also want to gain that experience and be team-recognized and make our presence felt there, so we are making that a goal. Hopefully, we will be performing at our best at that time.”
Admission to all CSI home events are FREE and CLUE (PG) Certified for all students. For a complete schedule, click here.