A 22-year wait came to an end for the IUP women’s swim team as they claimed the PSAC championship on Saturday in York.
It marked the end of a special season for the team, culminating in the first conference championship since 1999 and the first under head coach Chris Villa.
“I think excitement encapsulates it all for me,” Villa said. “I am excited for the girls on the team this year. It was a grind for them, too, but they stayed positive and focused on the task in front of them.
“I am excited for all the alumni that came before, striving for the same goal. Lastly, I am excited for the future; the team this year has set the standard in so many ways. They have laid the foundation for more success in the future.”
“It was so exciting to win the team title and celebrate this achievement with my team,” Paige Mikesell (junior, kinesiology health and sport science) said. “My teammates are what get me through hard practices and bad days.
“They are so supportive of me and everyone else on our team. Winning the team title was just so assuring to all of the hard work that we put in this season.”
IUP scored 1658 points, which was 341.5 points better than second-place Bloomsburg. The team had six total victories in the two days of competition.
The star of the weekend for the women’s team had to be Paige Mikesell, who had seven victories to her name. She scored 128 points by herself, enroute to being named PSAC Most Outstanding Swimmer for a second consecutive year.
“This weekend, my mindset was to just have fun and support my teammates as much as I possibly could,” Paige Mikesell said. “This team, especially this year, has been through so much, but they make every practice and every bad day worth it.
“It was so much fun and so exciting to cheer them on and see their hard work pay off. This weekend, I did not swim season best times, but I had so much fun with my team. I learned more about how I swim and what I need to do in order to be better.”
Paige Mikesell said she will take a few weeks off but is determined to work just as hard this offseason to defend her national championship.
It was a fast start for the Crimson Hawks, collecting four wins and scoring almost half it’s points on the first day. Paige was able to collect three victories, two individual and one relay. Her victories came in the 200-yard individual medley (IM), 100-yard butterfly and 400-yard medley relay.
Also part of the relay were Parker Fanella (freshman, nursing), Erin Moyer (freshman, fashion and interior design) and Iliana Oikonomou (senior, philosophy), finishing with a time of 3:49.02. Rachel Johnson (junior, hospitality management) won her first conference championship in the 400-yard IM, finishing in 4:30.48 during the first day.
One of the Crimson Hawks’ best events was the 200-yard IM where they had the top four swimmers. After Paige Mikesell finished was Johnson, Claire Mikesell (redshirt senior, kinesiology health and sport science) and Amber Baldani (sophomore, international business). That helped them score 113 points between the four of them.
The team of Baldani, Moyer, Claire Mikesell and Oikonomou finished the first session of day one collecting a second place finish in the 200-yard medley relay. IUP also finished in second place for the 200-yard freestyle relay with Oikonomou, Baldani, Claire Mikesell and Johnson with a time of 1:35.80.
Day two started with Baldani collecting another second place in the 100-yard backstroke. The Crimson Hawks had another big event on day two, finishing top three in the 100-yard breaststroke. Claire Mikesell collected her first victory of the conference championships with a time of 1:02.05. Following her were Johnson and Moyer, finishing second and third respectfully.
The final session started with Clara Garcia (redshirt sophomore, computer science) and Kaylee Kassa (junior, food and nutrition) continuing the success, finishing third and fourth respectively in the 1650-yard freestyle event.
They were followed by Paige Mikesell defending her title in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 51.01. A little more than a second behind her was Oikonomou, finishing in third place with a time of 52.15.
In another event, another second and third place finish for the Crimson Hawks in the 200-yard backstroke happened. Baldani finished just in front of Fanella by 0.42 seconds.
In event 37, IUP finished one-two-three for a third time in the PSAC Championships. This time was the 200-yard breaststroke with Claire Mikesell winning comfortably, followed by Johnson and Moyer.
It concluded what could only be a dominant weekend for the IUP women’s swim team. They came in hot after a strong national championship over a month ago and put all the shortcomings of not winning a conference championship behind them.
The men’s team also competed during the week as they swam on Wednesday and Thursday.
It was not the finish they would have hoped for after coming in fourth place, 64 points behind third place Gannon, but they still had some individual success.
Luke Mikesell (freshman, criminology) was the biggest standout on the team after collecting two conference championships. He started out of the gates strong, with the first event of the championships being a dominating first place win in the 1000-yard freestyle. His 9:31.99 time was a season best, and almost 15 seconds faster than the next swimmer.
Another highlight came in day two of the competition when he won the 500-yard freestyle. His time of 4:26.91 was an incredible 0.02 second away from breaking the meet record from 2016. With Luke Mikesell only being a freshman, current record holder Victor Polyakov will need to watch out.
During day one of the championships Luke Mikesell was able to finish in second place during the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:37.94. That time was almost good enough to break the meet record, but Andy Thomas of Bloomsburg finished ahead of him with a time of 1:35.53, which was almost two seconds faster than the record of 1:37.36.
Day two was definitely a better day for the Crimson Hawks, as a part from the first place in the 500-yard freestyle, Luke Mikesell, along with Adam Morrison (freshman, computer science), Blake Hendricks (junior, accounting) and Cole Thomas (freshman, social studies education), finished in second place of the 800-yard freestyle relay with a time of 6:52.66.
Luke Mikesell finished in second place again during the 100-yard freestyle, falling to Andy Thomas again, who broke the PSAC record. It was not all Luke Mikesell for the men’s team, as David McLean finished fourth in the 200-yard butterfly.
Shane Scudder (junior, college of natural science and math) also finished fourth in the 1650-yard freestyle with a time of 16:42.78. Finally, Taylor Auger (junior, info systems and decision science) finished just outside of the top five after missing it by 0.41 seconds in the 200-yard backstroke.
At the end of all the events, the Crimson Hawks’ combined team score was good enough for second place. They were 171.5 points off from the overall winner in Bloomsburg.
With the end of the swim season now here, the Crimson Hawks wrap up a season full of success. Villa tried to put into words what this season was like.
“It was a blur and a grind all at the same time,” Villa said. “This season had it all…the bad: injuries, positive COVID cases (including my own), quarantine, pre quarantine, and the good: 13th in the country at NCAA, a NCAA National Champion, PSAC Champions, team records . . .etc.
“It was a roller coaster of emotions all year. There were times where I wasn’t sure we would even make it to the finish line. Our kids stayed focused and adaptable all season. If we needed to make a change or the NCAA threw a wrench into our plans, they never wavered.
“I am proud of our swimmers and my staff and everything they overcame just to make it to the meet, let alone the successes,” Villa said. “I am thankful for the support we received from IUP and the athletics administration.”
The team had success both on a local and national level. Hopefully this year will build confidence, and with that, the pool closes on a historical year for IUP swimming.