SAINT LEO, Fla. – While most Saint Leo University students are getting back into the swing of busy class schedules and extracurricular activities after a relaxing holiday season, the Lions' swimmers have been working hard in the Bowman Pool on the southeast corner of the University Campus.
With the Sunshine State Conference Championships on the horizon, along with an important Senior Day meet against Rollins on January 26, Head Coach Paul Mangen has been faced with the annual challenge of keeping his student-athletes in top shape despite going through 'the most wonderful time of the year.'
"The challenge of the winter season for us is that we want our student-athletes to be able to enjoy some time with their friends and or family without losing all their hard work from the fall," Mangen said. "It becomes a question of who is dedicated and able to focus on excellence."
Thirty days following their meet in Georgia against SCAD, a break that included the seven-day NCAA-mandated winter break period, Mangen trekked the Lions to Ft. Myers where Saint Leo swam in a New Year's Eve exhibition meet against Pfeiffer. In what has become an annual New Year's tradition against the Falcons, the men dominated behind a 226-124 score while the women came up just short with a 162-150 setback. While only team scores were kept, it served as a perfect setup to propel the Lions into the second-half of the season.
"Swimming Pfeiffer at that time does put something on the calendar to hopefully educe some urgency," Mangen said of their exhibition with the Falcons. "When we have a meet on the horizon I feel that our athletes have more focus, so it is very strategic like most of our competitions and we've gone back and forth with Pfeiffer each year since I've been here. (Pfeiffer Head Coach) Eric (Anderson) and I have very similar thought processes and we are able to come up with a meet each year that benefits both programs."
Stepping up to the big time saw the Lions' first meet of the New Year place them in the Orange Bowl Swim Classic against loaded Division I talent along the likes of the University of Michigan, West Virginia, George Mason and Florida International. Despite the challenge, the Lions held their own as the men trailed only the Wolverines in many events in a meet that legitimized their CSCAA no. 16 ranking. The women did not post a team score, but impressed individually with top-15 and a few top-10 finishes.
"We were not made aware that the scoring was only going to be top eight, but again when you are going up against some of the best competition in the country that isn't something you really need to focus on," Mangen said. "We did do a decent job of racing in a short course meter pool whereas we solely compete short course yards and had been training long course meters for the most part leading up to that meet. We put a lot of people in many events and the idea of challenging people so hard with different line-ups, hard competition, and multiple events is to build their confidence that at the end of the year we are prepared as best as we can be for the conference meet, which is the fastest and deepest conference in the country."
The men saw freshman Pawel Trenda carry the torch with second-place results in the 50 Fly (24.93) only behind Michigan's top swimmer; in the 100 Back (56.52); and the 200 IM (2:06.68). He also posted a third-place finish in the 100 Fly (55.69) with only Michigan swimmers finishing ahead of him in those events. His third-place relay performance in the 200 Medley (1:46.21) with teammates Matheus Assis, Pawel Trenda, Gabe Keown, and Milton Alberto-Requejo also helped to earn him the Saint Leo nomination for conference swimmer of the week.
On the women's side, Erin Bobsein posted a 14th and two 15th place finishes in the 100 Back, 50 Back and 200 IM respectively as she was the Lions' most consistent performer. Highlighting the meet were Paula Carvajal and Sandra Stopczynska who finished 10th and 12th respectively in the 50 Back.
Entering Sunshine State Conference competition for the first time since November 17, Saint Leo dominated Florida Tech on the men's side, while the women, competing in a double-dual format, bested both FIT and Lynn University.
Senior Michael Cozzi went undefeated for the Lions, winning all three of his events in dominant fashion. In total, the East Hampton, Conn. native finished atop the medal stand in the 1000 yard freestyle, the 500 yard freestyle and 200 yard freestyle, three of the longest events in the 22-event meet.
Helping the Lions to a dominating win over Florida Tech, Cozzi touched the wall in the 1000 free at 10:08.83, about 10 seconds faster than his nearest competitor. His time of 1:46.72 in the 200 free was nearly three seconds ahead of second place and the 4:53.14 finish in the 500 free saw five seconds elapse before the next swimmer finished.
His contribution helped the Lions to a 114-73 win over Florida Tech on the men's side.
Junior Bianca Muniz highlighted the women's team's 119-68 win over FIT and 126-56 victory over Lynn. Winning the 100 Free, her time of 55.44 was one second better than the next finisher as she also swam the anchor leg in the victorious 200 IM Relay (1:53.95) with teammates Chloe Pellican, Bobsein and Stopzynska; and stood atop the medal stand in the 200 Free Relay (1:45.30) with teammates Stopzynska, Isabella Bains, and Kristy Marques.
The wins the Lions have managed to bring back from Melbourne have Mangen excited for the next couple of weeks.
"This is the fourth quarter of the collegiate season, if you will, so we are pretty much focused on event and race specifics. That being said, they are swimming with a greater purpose, performing better in practice and really looking forward to our annual end of year clash with arch-rival Rollins. The ladies did not have their best performance again them in the fall and Rollins was absolutely ready. The men need to tie up a couple loose ends as well and will use this meet as an opportunity to swim fast."
Mangen closed out his thoughts by sharing, "I stand by the phrase that competition is the purest form of training."
Reaching the home stretch of the season, and looking toward postseason NCAA qualifications, the Lions turn their attention towards the final home meet of 2012-13. Saint Leo will welcome Rollins College to the Bowman Pool on Saturday, January 26. The Sunshine State Conference meet, also serving as Senior Day for the Lions' swimmers, will get underway at 11:00 a.m.
For more on both swim programs and the 15 other Saint Leo sports, visit SaintLeoLions.com. Also, be sure to 'Like' the Lions on Facebook at Facebook.com/SaintLeoLions.com, and 'Follow' the Lions on Twitter at Twitter.com/SaintLeoLions.