Strokes behind

Gaels not yet up to speed in the pool

The Gaels finished 10th at provincials this year.
The Gaels finished 10th at provincials this year.
Supplied by Greg Black

While the school’s swimmers are improving, Queen’s is lengths behind the top programs in the nation.

The Gaels’ men and women both finished 10th of 11 teams at last weekend’s OUA championships, far behind the province’s best, the Toronto Varsity Blues.

Queen’s is at a disadvantage in the pool due in part to the team’s varsity club status. Other schools, with varsity teams, are able to give out more scholarships to attract top-tier athletes.

While the lack of finances for scholarships is a disadvantage, Gaels head coach Ken Anderson said the support Queen’s offers in other areas helps develop the program.

“Other teams are in a better position to offer scholarships, so the initial athletes we get might not be the same level as the top three teams,” Anderson said. “But we certainly have the resources and the pool time to make the kids get significantly faster.”

In his three years at the helm of the team, Anderson said there’s been a shift in the way his athletes operate in the water.

“It’s become significantly less recreational and the focus is gradually shifting to performance as opposed to participation,” he said.

One Gael benefitting from this renewed focus on performance is fifth-year Margo Bacher, who will be Queen’s sole representative at the CIS championships in Toronto next week.

Bacher is set to take part in the women’s 50m and 200m breaststroke, marking her third CIS trip. She previously competed in 2011 and 2013.

“She’s swam very consistently,” Anderson said. “She should be able to find some speed in the 50, and if things go well, she’ll have a second swim.”

Anderson sees the change in the team’s mentality as a necessary step in the continuation of the program, since he feeels swimming is the sport OUA members are improving the quickest in.

Last season, the Varsity Blues became the first Ontario team to capture the men’s national title since 1994.

Toronto is part of a trio of schools — along with the Western Mustangs and McMaster Marauders — that Queen’s is trying to catch up with. Anderson said the Gaels still need to improve a great deal to contend with these teams, despite the strides they’ve made over the last couple of years.

To compete with the titans of their sport, Queen’s will need to focus on developing the talent they have as opposed to recruiting the best high school swimmers.

“You’re not going to get those kids in first year that are very, very fast,” Anderson said. “We’re just going to have to develop them while they are here, which is possible.”

Anderson said that while the Gaels can’t compete yet with the top OUA teams, they can move into a higher position in the 11-team standings.

One hurdle the team has to overcome is the problems with its facilities. While Anderson said the pool at the ARC features ample lane space for the swimmers, there have been some minor hitches with it this year.

“We had some issues with a heating coil and we had some issues with some lights,” he said. “Unfortunately, the lights shutdown came in our final preparation for OUAs. There’s not a lot that can be done — it’s very random.”

Minor maintenance issues are a small concern for the Gaels compared to the advantage that other schools have with larger scholarship funds and being able to recruit the best swimmers.

Even with the difficulties faced by the swim program, there’s confidence it will continue to develop and rebuild to a higher level.

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