This past offseason did not do many favors for Ball State Swimming and Diving.
Most of the team had limited access to pools because of COVID-19, and several swimmers returned to the program without having any competition since March. Some members of the team had to return to athletic form during its first few weeks back on campus.
Head coach J. Agnew said it was difficult for the Cardinals to prepare for this season. In practices and workouts, coaches have assigned swimmers to different training groups and lanes to help promote social distancing. Despite the difference in preparation, Agnew said he is happy with how his athletes have increasingly pushed each other over the last couple of weeks.
“We have progressed at a steady rate,” he said. “In these last few weeks, I think we have turned a corner, and now, we are ready to go fast.”
With the extended time away from each other, Agnew credited his upperclassmen for displaying excellent leadership skills throughout practices. He praised Caitlin Locante, senior women’s diving captain, specifically.
“Caitlin has been a leader from day one,” Agnew said. “She is somebody the divers trust, and [she] helps the team get better every day.”
Locante said the Cardinals benefited from their time off, as it strengthened their chemistry and familiarity with one another.
“We have realized it is a blessing to be here, and we have a chance,” Locante said.
That chance is a shot at success this season, building off of the foundation she and the Cardinals started in the 2019-20 season.
Locante finished eighth in the 1-meter diving event in the 2020 Mid-American Conference Championships last February, and she said she is confident the team can improve this season. Individually, she is hoping to win a medal in this season’s MAC Championships.
Diving coach Nick Gayes said he believes his team has plenty of firepower to achieve the goals Locante mentioned. In fact, Gayes said this season’s diving team has the most talent he has ever seen during his tenure at Ball State.
“I think this is the deepest group we have had in my eight years here talent-wise,” Gayes said. “We believe every one of our athletes can score at our conference meet, which is our ultimate goal.”
Expectations are similar for the women’s swimming team. Cailin Merck, senior women’s swimming captain, also has experience competing in the MAC Championships. Last season, she finished with times of 1:05.61 and 2:25.51 in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke events, respectively.
“We want to move up in the MAC no matter what,” Merck said. “With it being my final year, I want to rest, recover and fuel my body. Of course, I want to swim freaking fast.”
From what he has seen so far, Agnew said he has been most impressed with the women’s swimming team’s breaststroke group.
“Our breaststroke group has four to five members that can medal at [the] MAC [Championships],” Agnew said. “They compete and support each other every day, and it has been fun to see.”
The Cardinals begin their season with two home meets — Friday, Nov. 6 against Eastern Illinois and Saturday, Nov. 7 against Bowling Green.
“We must understand it is the first competition for everybody, [and] everyone is in the same boat of having a difficult last six months,” Gayes said. “It’s a process — just get the ball rolling. We have time.”