It all comes down to this.
After months of training, finding the limits of your endurance and punishing your body and mind, you finally get to go fast … really fast.
Lawrence University’s swimmers and divers look to reap the benefits of more than five months of hard labor at the weekend’s Midwest Conference Championships. The three-day meet begins Friday at Grinnell College.
“I expect some really strong performances, season bests, lifetime bests from top to bottom,” said Lawrence coach Drew Fleek, who saw both of his teams finish fourth at the championships a season ago.
The fast times that Fleek envisions are the direct result of the training regimen the Vikings follow.
“The main thing for these kids to be successful at the conference championships is months and months of progressive training,” Fleek said.
The Vikings start with building aerobic capacity and then seek to train their physiological system with repeats and threshold sets.
“We are trying to maximize their physical output and how much pain they can tolerate to get through the end of the race,” Fleek said. “My goal is to push them to the absolute limit so they can manage that pain mentally and physically.”
The brutal workouts resume when the Vikings return from winter break and continue through the dog days of January.
“It’s all an effort to get to this last part of the season. The first three or four weeks of the term we continue this difficult training,” Fleek said. “The overall goal is to break them down each afternoon workout so that they have just enough time to recover for the next day’s workout.”
Once the Vikings start closing in on the conference championships, they begin the taper in their training. The workouts get easier, and Fleek said the result is “it tricks the body.” That body has become accustomed to the punishing workouts and is still working with that in mind.
“When we get to the meet this weekend, the swimmers have the excess of energy. That’s why you’re able to see dramatic time drops at this time of the season,” Fleek said.
“The other thing is the championship atmosphere. All the pain and suffering and effort and all the morning practices … for this one three-day period where they just let it all out. That contributes a lot to the fast swims as well.”
Lawrence enters the league meet with a pair of returning champions on the women’s side. Junior Hannah Gabriel won the 200-yard freestyle in 2012, and sophomore Taylor Winter looks to defend her title in the 500 freestyle. Winter also has the top time in the league in the 1,650 freestyle.
Freshmen Emily Flack and Hayley Cardinal are also among the top swimmers in the league in multiple events. Flack is one the top backstrokers in the conference, and Cardinal is among the best in the breaststroke. The Vikings also bring top sprinter Julia Heller and Chelsea Hameister, one of the league’s best in the individual medley.
“All of those guys are doing to have some standout performances,” Fleek said. “Hayley, Emily Hannah and Taylor will all be competing for conference championships in their individual events as well.”
Depth is the big concern on the men’s side, but the Vikings have some individual standouts in Charlie Mann, Evan Flack, Jake Johnson, Nick Craker, Caleb Stellmach, Charlie Malchow, Tom Vogel, Patrick Vincent and Grant Wilkie.
“All the guys have a chance to score in at least one event,” Fleek said. “I think our freestyle relays are going to be very strong on the guys’ side.”
Lawrence wraps up its basketball season on Saturday when Grinnell College makes the visit to Alexander Gymnasium.
Apart from the entertainment value of Grinnell’s run-and-gun style, which has been toned down a bit (gone are the days of virtually uncontested layups against Grinnell’s defense), the game means a lot to the Pioneers.
A win against Lawrence would ensure that Grinnell would host the four-team Midwest Conference Tournament. Grinnell is currently tied with St. Norbert College for first place, and the Pioneers hold the tiebreaker.
Tip-off is set for 3 p.m., and admission to the game is free.
Playing for the playoffs
Lawrence hasn’t yet clinched a berth in the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs heading into the final series of the regular season.
Lawrence faces Lake Forest College in a home-and-home series this weekend, with Friday’s game at the Appleton Family Ice Center. The Foresters are one of the league’s hottest teams (7-3-2 in their last 12 games), and the Vikings are on a season-worst five-game losing streak.
The top three teams from each of the MCHA’s two divisions make the playoffs, and the Vikings are tied with Northland College for third place in the Northern Division. Lawrence trails second-place Finlandia University by two points, but the Vikings hold the tiebreakers with both Northland and Finlandia.
While the Vikings have a tough test against Lake Forest, Finlandia has to travel to third-ranked Adrian College and Northland goes to No. 13 MSOE.
Editor’s Note: Inside LU Athletics is a notes package written by Lawrence University Director of Athletic Media Relations Joe Vanden Acker. It will feature teams and individual players, recap weekly awards or highlights and take a look at what’s ahead for the Vikings.