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SMC ends varsity swim program

Kaitlyn Rabach | Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Karen Johnson, vice president of Student Affairs at Saint Mary’s, informed students March 19 of the plan to end the varsity swimming program, a decision made by College President Carol Ann Mooney and her cabinet in collaboration with director of athletics Julie Schroeder-Biek.

The varsity swimming program began in 1975 and since then, five students have received a total of 12 all-conference individual awards.

“The elimination of swimming as a varsity sport was a difficult decision and one that was not taken lightly,” Johnson said. “However, waning interest in participation, the lack of appropriate on-campus facilities and the recent resignation of current coach Mark Benishek led the leadership of the College to this conclusion.”

The lack of an on-campus pool was the main factor leading to the elimination of the varsity sport, Johnson said. For the past four years, the team has used Notre Dame’s facilities for both practice and competitions.

“Because of his position at Notre Dame, Coach Benishek was able to assure our team had practice time at the Rolfs Aquatic Center,” Johnson said. “Prior to that, our swimmers practiced as late as 10 p.m. or at a local high school. Facing the uncertainty of practice facilities and the potential hardship on our swimmers and our concern for their safety was a key consideration in this decision.”

Benishek, who left at the end of the season for a job in Seattle, said his job at Rolfs did not influence his ability to acquire practice times for his team.

“I worked at Notre Dame, but there was not preferential treatment given to me or the Saint Mary’s swim team, at least any special treatment I knew about,” he said. “I had to apply for pool times like any other group or club looking for pool times would have to.”

Though Saint Mary’s never had its own pool, Benishek said the swim team always found a way to get past that challenge. Another major factor behind the decision to end the program was the lack of students interested in swimming next season, Johnson said. This deficiency was due to various events, such as study abroad, senior graduations and an uncertain number of incoming swimmers, she said.

Benishek and Liz Palmer, a senior swimmer, said the College may have underestimated the number of walk-ons it receives every year.

“I was never recruited,” Palmer said. “I just walked on. A lot of girls did that.”

The College has received “very little feedback from the community” about the end of the swimming program and does not anticipate the decision will deter future applicants, Johnson said. “I think that this decision will discourage very few from applying to and coming to Saint Mary’s,” she said. “Our swim program is small and we haven’t met with many possible recruits this year.”

A number of current swimmers said they wished they knew the program was going to be eliminated because this decision may have affected their decision to attend the College.

“Had I known that Saint Mary’s would not have a swim team for all four years I would … be here, I would not have come,” first-year Carolyn Neville said. “Swimming was a huge part of my college search. I do not want to transfer schools now because I have made great friends and enjoy being here, but I definitely want to find a way to keep swimming competitively.”

Benishek said he is disappointed other Saint Mary’s girls will not be able to experience being on the team.

“It is not just a sport,” Benishek said. “It is an opportunity to form relationships that go beyond the four years on campus. My heart especially goes out to the juniors, sophomores and freshman that will not be able to finish out their careers at Saint Mary’s. It really is a shame.”

Despite the College’s decision to end the swim team, Johnson said every intercollegiate sport is an asset to the school.

“Athletes become leaders and build strong communities,” she said. “We are proud of all of athletes. Additionally, on our campus, athletes have strong academic careers.

Johnson said the College will not sponsor a swim team until the College has a pool on site and “at this time there are no plans to build one.”