By KEVIN BOILARD
In her third season as the head coach of the men’s and women’s swimming teams at the University of Mary Washington, Abby Brethauer is leading her teams to unprecedented success. Earlier this month, Brethauer’s squads announced they were sending 10 athletes to compete at the NCAA Division III Championships, a school record.
Six members of the men’s team and four members of the women’s team began competing on Wednesday, March 20, in Shenandoah, Texas, the location of the 2013 championships. The events will take four days to complete, and the UMW swimmers will return to Fredericksburg after the final day of competition on Saturday, March 23.
Brethauer, who swam with a three-time national champion Kenyon College team in the early 2000s, is excited about the opportunity laid before her swimmers.
“Being a successful conference team is very exciting, but we want more than that,” Brethauer said. “Division III swimming is fast; at the top end, it’s very, very fast. And that’s fun.”
On the men’s side, the Eagles have sent a plethora of talent to Texas. Senior Nick Eckhoff and sophomore Alex Anderson will each compete in three individual events, while senior Peter Slattery and sophomore Michael Yelmgren will each compete in one.
Freshman Sean Mayer and senior Jack McHugh will round out the men’s first ever relay team to compete nationally. Mayer, the youngest swimmer representing the men’s squad, has mixed feelings about the championships.
“It feels awesome to represent UMW at NCAAs,” said Mayer, a 5-foot-10-inch physics and math major who specializes in the backstroke and butterfly events. “I’m a little nervous going into the meet, but I’m more excited about the opportunity of racing the fastest people from all over the nation.”
The swimmers from the women’s side will compete in their fair share of events, as well. Junior Amber Kerico will compete in three different individual events, and freshman Katie Fago will race in one.
Freshmen Hannah Hagy and Stephanie Hallock will join Kerico and Fago to compete in four of the five different relays at the championship meet. Fago feels no nervousness about being on a relay team in which three of the four members are freshmen.
“What I’m feeling is the excitement of qualifying for the NCAAs,” said Fago, a biology major from East Windsor, N.J. “As swimmers, we have practiced a lot of hours over the years, so we all know what we have to do: go out and swim our own race and have confidence that we’ve already done all the work necessary for success.”
Fago gives a lot of credit to her coaches, Brethauer and her assistant Jake Lewing, referring to them as the “dynamic duo.” Brethauer and Lewing are the only coaches for both the men’s and the women’s squads—about 50 swimmers—a singul unit that Fago calls the “Aqua Eagle” team.
Brethauer, on the other hand, claims that her athletes’ hard work has bred their success, including capturing the men’s 13th and the women’s 23rd consecutive conference titles in 2013.
“From day one, they’ve been a group that has consistently exceeded the expectations Jake and I set for them,” Brethauer said before heading off to NCAAs. “They were pushed this year, and they responded in a way that was very admirable and very impressive.”
At the CAC championships, 87 percent of UMW swimmers achieved a lifetime-best time, and 93 percent clocked in at a collegiate-best time. The Eagles will need to be even faster this week, as they will hop into the water with the quickest Division-III competition that the country has to offer.