Flashback Friday looks at the top moments from the 2016-17 athletic year at the College of Staten Island. This week, we take a look at the No. 6 top moment as voted on by CSI staffers. The College of Staten Island men’s swimming and diving team set their sight on an unprecedented fourth-straight CUNYAC title and in one of the tightest races in conference history, the team did exactly that, narrowly escaping past Baruch for the title in early February.
#6 – Men’s Swimming & Diving wins fourth-straight CUNYAC Championship
Date: February 5, 2017
Who: Men’s Swimming & Diving
Where: Lehman College – Bronx, NY
What Happened: The three-time defending champion CSI Men’s Swimming & Diving team was certainly regarded as the favorite going into the CUNYAC Championships at Lehman College on the weekend of February 3-5, but the team knew this race would be tight, with schools like Baruch College and host Lehman College making up ground and looking to put up their best races of the season. The Dolphins, however, would not disappoint, and escaped a bizarre ending to hold on and narrowly slip by Baruch College by just 2.5 points to claim the title. CSI was flying high, and had won 16 of the 19 events going into the final race of the afternoon. CSI knew it had a decent sized lead, but in the last event, an unfortunate slip on the starting block cost CSI tremendously. The Dolphins won the final race, but they were disqualified for the slip and had to forfeit the points they would have won. That left a stunned silence on the deck for the Dolphins, who lost 32 points in the event, and all of a sudden the championship was in doubt. After a scary half hour or so, the Dolphins were announced as the champions during the CUNYAC trophy presentations, completing the great run by the team, especially its seniors. Timothy Sweeney was named Meet MVP for a fourth straight year as well.
Q&A…with Chris Pinto
The swimming and diving team went through an overhaul when you first joined the team four years ago. What were your impressions when you joined the team and your expectations? Mike (Ackalitis) coached me for a brief period of time when I swam for Monsignor Farrell, so I knew how great of a swimmer, coach, and man he was. He did a great job of recruiting the best swimmers on the Island with Tim Sweeney and Derek Villa. I knew this was a team that would have great potential and a great work ethic. I was excited and was expecting to work hard over the next four years with some of the best swimmers I knew, who eventually became best friends. I knew we would be capable of great things.
Going into this season, you were the three –time defending champs and that makes teams like yours a target throughout the year. Is it easier or harder to be in that position going in to the season? I would say it’s a little bit of both. It’s harder, because we know all the teams want to beat us, but easier because we can use that as motivation to keep winning. I think we would work our hardest regardless of if we were coming into the season as defending champs or if we had come in last place the year before. That’s just what this team did over the last four years, we came in everyday put our heads down and swam hard until it was over. This truly is the hardest working team I know. We knew what victory tasted like and we couldn’t get enough of it.
Not only do you have to live up to the pedigree, but as a senior and co-captain it’s on you to be a physical and vocal leader of the team. How do you prepare and live up to a role like that? It’s easy when you have a team like I did. Our team has never been about who’s the oldest or who’s the fastest, we have always been about what can we do to win as a team. So you always pushed yourself physically and mentally to do whatever it took for the team to win. Maybe that day in particular it was to swim back-to-back races where you just touched out your opponent to get a few extra points to put us ahead. Or for me it seemed like Mike was always putting me up on the 3-meter board to scrape a few extra points together to get a win. Like I said it’s easy to do those things when you aren’t doing them for yourself but rather for the benefit of the team – we have no physical limit when swimming for each other. As for being a vocal leader, I take pride in my pre-meet speeches and cheer. I think we have the best cheer in the conference and it’s one that this team put together two years ago on our first training trip to Florida. I am always ready to motivate and pick my teammates up when they need it because I know they do the same for me, it’s just natural for all of us.
Swimming is unlike a lot of sports in that you train for so long and so vigorously and yet you only have a handful of meets per year. How important is that training to make sure you are at your best when you need to be? Training is what separates the good swimmers from the great swimmers. Like I have stated before we are the hardest working team. We are in the pool early in the morning, we lift in the weight room, we double again in the afternoon, and there is no time when this team isn’t working. I think that says a lot about the coaching staff and the members of the team. Swimming is very different because you could be out of the pool for a few days and lose all the work you put in for a few weeks or months. We are always ready to be at our best when we need to be because of the effort we put in when we train.
This year for the second straight year, the team took a trip to Florida in the middle of the year for intensive training and team bonding. How important would you say that break was for you guys and the stretch run that was to come? I think the training trip is a key factor in our success. I cannot say it enough that the members of this team have become my best friends. Spending the time together is essential in creating a strong team bond where you want to win for each other. On top of the bond that is created, Mike really knows how to work us hard, especially in a 50 meter pool. That week is usually the hardest week of the season because when we get back we have only a short period of time before the championship meet when we are tapering. All in all the training trip is a ton of fun and really a great part of the season.
At the CUNYAC Championship everyone knew going in that it was going to likely be a tight finish. What were some of the things said and done over those three days to insure you guys would come out on top? I remember telling everyone that winning tastes much better than losing, and that was the focus of my pre-meet speech. Everyone was pretty hyped up to swim fast, and there were a lot of amazing swims that got everyone pumped more than any words could have done. Just off the top of my head some of the biggest swims came from Roberto, Jeff, Adil, and Omar and I know there is a picture from the meet where you can see me and a few other team members just screaming in pure excitement. We have this saying as swimmers, “leave it all in the pool” and that’s exactly what we did those three days, we took all the training we put in, all the early morning swims, and lifts and we left it all in the pool. I really am proud of my team.
Thankfully the team was up by a wide margin going into the final event because CSI got DQ’d in that event and because you didn’t score, you ended up only winning by a pair of points. How tense were those moments for you guys because until they announced it, it seemed like you still weren’t 100% sure it was a win. We all kind of just sat there trying to do the math on the point swing and points for all 3 days. It felt like we were gasping for air but couldn’t catch our breath. Finally, we learned that we did win and it was relieving and exciting.
So in four years you’ve done what such few teams have done and won four-straight CUNYAC Championships. What did it feel like to carry the trophy one final time and finish your career as a champion? There really are no words to describe the feeling other than that it felt right. The work we put in paid off. The goal we had from freshmen year was finally completed. We left our mark on CUNYAC swimming with a dynasty and the cup is home where it belongs.
What can you say about your overall experience at CSI and how it has affected your life? CSI was definitely the best place for me. I don’t think I could have been as successful as a student-athlete anywhere else. While my experiences here were beyond anything I could have dreamed to ask for, it is the people I met here who make me sincerely proud to be a dolphin. From the coaches, to the staff, to the athletes, to the teammates I trained with every day for the past four years I happily call the Cove my home.