The College of Staten Island men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams will be kicking off their respective season on Monday, and the new year carries new and unique possibilities coming off of an outstanding 2014-15 campaign complete with another CUNYAC Championship and almost too many broken records to count. CSI squares off against Queens College on the road on Monday evening at 6pm, followed by their home opener against CUNYAC-rivals Brooklyn College on Thursday, November 5, at 6pm.
CSI has plenty of reason to be excited in 2015-16. The men’s unit is the two-time defending CUNYAC Champion, and despite the losses of a few key pieces, the Dolphins return both a healthy nucleus, and introduce some new faces they hope to make a quality impact. The centerpiece is junior Tim Sweeney, a multiple record-holder and the Most Valuable Performer at the 2015 CUNYAC Championship last February. Sweeney made NCAA B-cut times a year ago, and head coach Michael Ackalitis feels he is one student-athlete who could be visiting the National Championship at the close of the season. He leads a unit with plenty of experience and championship pedigree.
“The way our team is made up we are really looking to maintain what we have done and stay on the championship course,” said Ackalitis. “Having this experience and quality at the top gives us the kind of confidence to know that what we are doing is working and we just need to concentrate on finishing strong at meets.”
Alongside returning aces like diver Ayman El Haddad and swimmers Derek Villa and Stephen O’Driscoll, CSI is also excited about the addition of several key newcomers, among them Jonathan Gorinshteyn, Tommy Gaspar, and Nick Defonte. The coach feels that the mix of talent can add up to a winner once again. The key to another title, and regional and national laurels will be CSI’s ability to utilize its depth. “Especially at the CUNY Championship, it often comes down to those key fourth, fifth, and sixth place finishes that make all the difference,” Ackalitis stated. “If we make improvement a priority from top to bottom, we can utilize our ability to do that.”
In all, Ackalitis is quick to note that he expects his team to be a contender, and is training with that in mind this year. “My expectations are to compete for the title. Of course, our opponents will have a lot to say about that, but we just have to focus on us and make sure our leadership takes us through and gets us to where we want to go once the season gets underway.”
Over on the women’s side the Dolphins hope to be highly competitive at the top of the table. Senior Dakota Dawkins, the CSI Female Athlete of the Year last year and sophomore Ewa Wojciechowska almost single-handedly rewrote the team’s record book last year, and together with dynamos like Kelly Walsh, Naomi Gaggi, and Samantha Escobedo, the team is eyeing another impressive run. According to Ackalitis the returning talent is improved and hungry for more advanced progression in 2015-16.
“I definitely think our team is coming back hungrier,” Ackalitis stated. “You can see the motivation in practice. We came off of a historic season, and I think our women’s team knows that with hard work and seasoned training there’s no telling how far they can raise the bar.”
CSI’s roster boasts quality over quantity, so according to the coach the women’s unit may not have the type of sustainable depth that the men’s team shows. Still, the coach hopes for an improved postseason standing.
“We’ve been stuck in third place for a few years now and we’d really like to improve on that,” the coach said. “I think we would really love to close that gap and shock a few people this year. I feel we may be able to surprise, especially in dual meets.”
CSI will spend a majority of the early part of the season on the road, including stops at William Paterson (11/10) and Pace University (11/13). Following a showdown with Baruch College on November 20 at the Sports & Recreation Center, CSI will take to the road for three-straight before finalizing with three straight home matches leading up to the CUNYAC Tournament in early-February. The highlight to the season undoubtedly will be an almost week-long visit to Stewart, Florida, where CSI will train and compete against some area programs. Getting away from the normal practice scenario of the Sports & Recreation Center and to take strokes at a long-course Olympic sized pool will be a tremendous asset, according to the coach.
“It’s going to be a real positive experience for us,” he said. “You can see the program changing and us trying to improve on everything that we do.”
In mid-February, the Dolphins will compete in the Metropolitan Swimming & Diving Championship, before the NCAA National Championships in early-March.