Inside LU Athletics: Lawrence swimmers laying down the law

Posted on: January 15th, 2014 by Joseph Vanden Acker

It sounds like a law firm — Winter, Gabriel, Flack, Cardinal and Witter.

This group of Lawrence University women’s swimmers has been laying down the law with the competition this season by making it very clear they are a force to be reckoned with.

Hannah Gabriel, Taylor Winter, Emily Flack, Hayley Cardinal and Paige Witter form the core of a very good Vikings squad, one that has high hopes as it hits the stretch run of the season. This fab five is powering the squad, according to Gabriel, the lone senior in this quintet.

“I do personally feed off the other swimmers on the team, and I’m sure that they would say the same thing,” Gabriel said. “You are always encouraged to have a healthy competition with your teammates as it helps you strive towards your personal best. Having a strong nucleus of swimmers is beneficial to any swim team, especially when it comes to having relays that are competing for the top spots in the conference.”

Gabriel, who is a two-time Midwest Conference champion in the 200-yard freestyle, said the team is working through the grind of January to get some really fast times next month.

“The last few weeks of the season are always difficult and¬†gauging performance is not always easy, you just have to put your trust into all of the training accomplished over the course of the season,” Gabriel said. “I think that there will be some great performances by all members of the team as the season winds down, especially at the conference meet.”

Led by the core of the squad, Lawrence finished fourth last weekend at the tough University of Chicago Invitational. Lawrence coach Drew Fleek was buoyed by the results because the team is still slogging through a major workload as it edges closer to the end-of-season taper.    

“There’s really no surprise to how good they’ve been, but it’s a testament to the work they’ve put in,” Fleek said. “They all have a tremendous work ethic.”

Putting in that work and pushing each other is something Cardinal loves.   

“I really think that being able to swim with such amazing and talented swimmers has allowed me, and I’m sure everyone, to push themselves just that much further, not just in our specialty strokes but in events that we may not be as strong in,” said Cardinal, a sophomore.

“I know when someone else is having a good day at practice or drops time in a meet, I want to keep up with them and help the team succeed from whatever I can do as well. So I think it’s encouraging to see how strong our team is, and I’m always impressed by how my teammates perform. I can’t help but get excited for them for the team as a whole.”

This group of Vikings not only brings great talent but also great versatility to the pool. In Gabriel and Winter, they have former conference champions and two of the top freestylers in the league. Cardinal ranks first and third in the league in the two breaststroke events and is one of the best in the individual medley. Witter holds some of the top times in the league in the butterfly, and Flack could win both of the conference titles in the backstroke.

“We have somebody near the top in every specific stroke, and that¬†is a huge benefit too because there is not any event where we’re weak. It also makes for great medley relays,” Fleek said. “All of them are pretty versatile. It makes for great relays and they can all train together and push each other in practice.”

The Vikings hope the countless hours in the pool, the friendly competition and daring to dream a bit will push them to great achievements over the next month. Lawrence travels to the Wisconsin Private College Championships later this month and then goes to the Midwest Conference Championships in mid-February.

“We definitely know that we can improve on last year and are confident we can compete with Grinnell and Lake Forest,” said Winter, a former league champ in the 500 freestyle.¬†”The Chicago Invitational gave us confidence, and we want to build on that success going into Wisconsin Private College Championships and the Midwest Conference Championships next month.”¬†

Lawrence finished fourth at the MWC meet last season, with Grinnell, Lake Forest and Monmouth all finishing ahead of them. Fleek said his team was OK with that finish but not jumping up and down with glee. He would like to see this team, which is 5-0 in dual meets this season, pull itself closer to the league’s elite.

“I think at the beginning of the year our goal was to place one spot higher in the conference as a team. I think we have a great opportunity to do that,” Fleek said. “I think¬†now our definite goal is to get third and compete for conference championships in some relays.”

Start the music

You can crank up the calliope music on Saturday because the circus comes to Alexander Gymnasium. The Grinnell men’s basketball team takes on Lawrence at 1 p.m.

Lawrence, which defeated Grinnell here last season, really needs a victory because the Vikings (5-7, 3-4 MWC) are on a three-game conference losing streak. Grinnell (11-2, 6-2) leads the nation in scoring at 129.2 points per game, and Jack Taylor leads the nation at 38.1 points per contest.

Starting stretch run

The Vikings have a home-and-home Northern Collegiate Hockey Association series with MSOE this weekend, and that starts a 10-game run of league games to finish the regular season. 

Lawrence (4-10-1, 3-5-0 NCHA) currently sits in seventh place with six points, but the Vikings are looking to creep up the standings. If Lawrence could move up to fourth place, the Vikings could host a quarterfinal playoff series.

Lawrence faces MSOE (1-12-1, 0-8-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday night at the Appleton Family Ice Center.

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