Tinkering paid dividends for Mac swimmers

Their team had found a comfortable arrangement over the course of the season, but on race day at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Swimming Championships in Calgary, the Marauders made a change.

The McMaster quartet of Sarah Taylor, Emma Mittermaier, Meg Sloan and Emily Fung had functioned all year as the Marauders’ freestyle relay team, reaching the podium twice at the Ontario University Athletics Championships two weeks earlier with Taylor swimming the lead leg, Mittermaier and Sloan following, and Fung doing the final burst.

Photo: McMaster Athletics

But as they readied to compete for a national medal, Marauders’ head coach Andrew Cole proposed a change: Rookie Mittermaier would lead out this time.

“Throughout the year, I was swimming either second or third leg, because we had Sarah Taylor leading off and she’s really quick, and Emily Fung always brought it home for us,” Mittermaier recalls. “We weren’t sure how we were going to be positioned for the CIS meet. On the day of the event, Andrew said that it would be me, Sarah, Emily and then Meg.”

It was a sudden change for the young Marauder, with the prospect of facing off against women with Olympic experience at hand.

“I was nervous, but I was also really excited, because I was racing against two Olympians,” says Mittermaier.

The tinkering paid dividends, as the Marauder quartet finished third in the 4x100m event and claimed one of McMaster’s three medals at the national championship meet. It provided a fitting end to a triumphant season for the group, one that had seen it enter historic company.

The Marauders’ gold medal-winning effort in the 4x50m event at the OUA finals stood among the very best finishes at that distance in Canadian history, ranking sixth all-time and across all levels of Canadian swimming. Take a glance at the record books, and the names of Taylor, Mittermaier, Sloan and Fung are displayed on the same level as Olympians and national team members.

It was a banner season for a group of athletes who found themselves at different junctions in their respective careers. Mittermaier stood at one pole, wading into CIS competition in her first year at McMaster, unsure of what the experience would bring with it.

“I decided that I was going to try swimming at this level and decide whether or not I liked it,” explains the Marauder rookie. “I ended up loving it. This summer, I’m going to take it off and just be training, but next year, I just want to do it all over again and have just as much fun. More, if that’s possible.”

Sloan found herself at the other end of the spectrum this season, sizing up her final season as a Marauder and looking to rekindle a competitive fire after struggling through the previous year. She explains that she achieved that and more as a part of the Maroon and Grey this season.

“I hit the bottom, and this team picked me back up,” says Sloan. “All that I wanted to do was prove to myself that I could get back to where I was. I ended up doing much more than that. I did better, and I exceeded my expectations.

“I think that the best thing for me was that I had no expectations coming into this year. Other years, I would have high goals for myself and I wouldn’t achieve them, because they were out of my range.”

The departing senior admits that leaving the program after such a season will be difficult, but marvels at the growth and success that McMaster has experienced in her time here.

“It is tough, but it was a great way to end off,” says Sloan. “This team in the past five years has grown so much. When I started here, there were only three of us rookies at the CIS meet, and 12 Marauders altogether. This year, we had almost a full squad. I’m sure that next year, we’ll bring a full 18 girls and guys.

“The calibre of the team is amazing and I feel blessed to have been a part of that. Andrew has carried this team and made it stand on the national level. We’ve come a long way.”

Mittermaier will be central to that development as the Marauders move forward in search of ever-greater successes. She applauds Cole for creating an environment in which team cohesion is valued alongside competition.

“We’re getting better,” the rookie affirms. “We’re more competitive with other teams, but we still have a unique way of doing things. Andrew has an approach to this team that’s very family-oriented and caring, and I found that really remarkable that we can do both.”

Sloan’s graduation will demand an addition to the McMaster’s decorated relay, but its current members aren’t worried by that prospect. With new teammates incoming in the fall, the Marauders are confident that their steady climb into CIS contention will continue in 2013-14.