After a spirited three-month run through the regular season, the College of Staten Island men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams will turn their attention to the 2016 CUNYAC Swimming & Diving Championships held at Lehman College this weekend. For the men that means a push towards their third-straight CUNYAC title and for the women it means another healthy turn in the pool, where personal records stand to be smashed and a climb up in the leaderboards.
For Head Coach Michael Ackalitis, the theme this weekend is a familiar one. The Dolphins conventionally save their best performances for this initial weekend in February, and he expects the excitement of the season to peak in the coming days.
“It’s definitely a long season for our students, especially when you mix in what they do in the classroom with finals and the new semester. So, once we get to this time of year there is definitely a feeling of excitement and relief,” said Ackalitis. “Our athletes want to show people their top times in this meet, and want to really put on display how hard they have worked all year.”
Ackalitis and his men’s unit have garnered a championship pedigree, and they hope to parlay past year’s success at this year’s meet. With the tremendous performances all year from juniors Tim Sweeney and Derek Villa, along with emerging starts like freshmen Nicholas Defonte and Jonathan Gorinshteyn, the Dolphins seem primed and ready for great performances in the pool, and when the diving performances are measured, brothers Ayman and Adil El Haddad stand to be near the top of the standings. All told, Ackalitis believes that much like in year’s past, the Dolphins have positioned themselves nicely for another quality run at a championship.
“It’s going to be a battle for the Championship, with three teams right there at the top,” Ackalitis noted. “I like where we are and how we are positioned because when things are very close like this because it keeps the intensity up and it forces us to just concentrate on doing our best and out-doing ourselves. If we do that, the placing and points will take care of themselves.”
As defending champs and an after an undefeated CUNYAC regular season run, CSI will be looked at as the odds-on-favorite for another title, but Ackalitis knows that his unit may not have the depth or sheer numbers that other teams have, and because of that, more pressure will be put on his top swimmers, to make sure they are at their personal bests with every beat in the pool.
“We don’t have the type of depth that other teams do but I definitely think we can use it as a good thing. It turns that nervous energy into excitement at the thought of potentially breaking records and personal best times. As long as we work towards matching or exceeding our best times we will be okay with that. But being right up there at the top in many races makes things very exciting.”
Over on the women’s side, the Dolphins have placed well behind the leaders and heavily populated Baruch, Hunter, and Lehman College teams of the past. Ackalitis knows his team is out-numbered again in 2016, but last year’s team used the CUNYAC Championship as a springboard to tremendous personal and team achievements. Multiple CSI records were broken in the pool, and CSI found its fair share of top three finishes scattered throughout the meet. With dynamo Ewa Wojciechowska leading the way, CSI’s Dakota Dawkins, Kelly Walsh, Naomi Gaggi, Samantha Escobedo and Caitlin McLoughlin doubling on the diving boards, CSI will certainly be involved in many a race this weekend as well.
“We are on the smaller side as far as teams in this meet go, so it positions us more as a middle-of-the-pack team,” Ackalitis noted. “It puts an added emphasis on individual performances and also our relay teams which really performed well last year. We have a chance to break personal bests and even eye a few CSI and CUNYAC records this weekend and that is exciting.”
With four seniors on the women’s side, Ackalitis knows his women will be looking to outdo themselves this year. His hope is that it translates into more points at this year’s meet than last. His team is small, but he expects it to land a couple of major power punches.
“We may not be able to rack up the points in many events, but we can certainly turn some heads and win races outright and that has us really aiming high,” the coach said. “I think last year we turned a lot of heads, especially with our relay teams and I think we have the potential to do that again this weekend.”
While winning the CUNYAC Championship is a marquee milestone, February’s opening weekend is just one in what CSI hopes will be a series of great postseason turns. Later in February the team will travel to Piscataway, NJ, for the Metropolitan Swimming & Diving Championships at Rutgers University, a showcase for all NCAA Divisions. That can then serve as a springboard for the 2016 NCAA Division III National Championship. CSI’s Tim Sweeney is looking to qualify for entry there, and his times garnered at the CUNYAC Championship will be a big step towards that.
But first things first for Ackalitis and his unit, and that means saving their best for the CUNYAC Championship.
“This is the major focus from the beginning for our team and that may be different from the past when we focused more on Metros and the NCAA’s,” Ackalitis noted. “We are all on the same page, knowing that this weekend is the one where we swim our best and go all-out. We hope that when the dust settles they’ll be plenty of awards and a championship waiting for us.”
The CUNYAC Championship Meet at Lehman College is a three-day event. The action kicks off at 2:00pm on Friday afternoon and continues at 10:00am on both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets to all legs of the meet are free and are available now HERE. For a complete list of events and heat sheets visit the CUNYAC Athletics Website when they become available HERE.