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  • Emma Garcia

Swimmers of the Snake Pit

Photography by Jason Wu

Pictured from Left to Right: Sebastian Wolff, Joseph Gurski, Dominic Edwards, Paige daCosta

Time has a monumental power in sports, but in swimming the instant turn a swimmer makes towards the scoreboard after a finish truly demonstrates the weight that even the smallest units of time can carry. In the blink of an eye, races are won, records are crushed, lifetime bests are attained. A single flinch, delay, or touch can be the difference between making A and B-Finals, which can ultimately change the layup of a podium. It sometimes really does depend on that last hundredth of a second. This year, Cornell’s Swim and Dive Team clinched multiple NCAA B-Cuts, A/B/C Finalists, Season and Lifetime bests, and multiple new school records in the 800 Free Relay (Banks, Simoes, Ubertalli, Edwards), 400 Medley Relay (daCosta, Wolff, Gurski, Edwards), 200 IM (Wolff), 200 Fly (Gurski), 200 Back (Ubertalli), and 100 Free (Wolff, Relay Leadoff) at the Ivy League Championships held February 22nd-25th.

Early swims in the lineup help to set the tone and gain momentum to carry throughout a championship. Joseph Gurski ‘25, a school record-holder himself in the 200 Fly with a time of 1:45.15 at the 2023 Ivies, explains the importance of this first day of events: “The first day is the hardest day because there are three events, and everyone wants their events to line up where you have one event one day, and one event another. So, you really want to have an event on that first day. There’s the 500, 2 IM, and the 50, and it is really hard to final in those. Compared to last year, we had more finalists in those events.”

Image Provided by Cornell Athletics

Highlighting the magnitude of having finalists in those events, Gurski went on to say, “In the 2 IM we had an A-Finalist, Wolfie, and he got second which was great. That brought a lot of energy to our next two days.”

Sebastian “Wolfie” Wolff ‘25, set a new school record with a time of 1:44.27 with a second placing in the 200 IM, this was a school record previously set by teammate Paige daCosta ‘23 back in 2020. daCosta described it as a sort of inevitability: “Leading up to the Ivies, I think we as a team, maybe as a joke at first, were like, ‘you know he is going to beat that record.’ We were all looking forward to it. It was only a matter of time before it would happen, and I am glad he did because that shows that our team is headed in such a great direction.”

The feeling of your team becoming better and seeing teammates reach their goals not only influences the athletes themselves, but it inspires the entire team. Performances like those seen at Ivies 2023, speak volumes about the direction of a collegiate swimming program.

“The only way that you can statistically tell that a team is getting faster is if the records are being broken and the times are getting faster and that’s exactly what happened,” daCosta explained.

Each event carries its own intensity that permeates the environment, which makes teammates and spectators unable to take their eyes off the water. These swimmers feed off of each other’s energy. By building morale throughout the season, they push one another to be the best versions of themselves in and out of the pool. While some might view the dynamic of beating teammates’ records as hyper-competitive in nature, Paige shared that it gives him, “something to train for and look forward to, but it also means that I have someone to train with because he’s beating the record.” From buzz cuts to cheering on teammates, these moments create a light in their eyes when talking about their teammates, lane buddies, or even the guys they like to “out-touch” during practice.

Photography by Jason Wu

A common message that was shared was to be “one percent better,” a message that has been ingrained in them by coaches. Each has a different take on what this means to them and their performance in the water. For some, it means one percent better than their last swim; for others, it means one percent from their last season. Regardless of what this improvement looks like individually, this message is carried throughout the season and even beyond Ivies.

Ivies 2023 was productive for the Big Red, but the work is far from done. They have their eyes on next season as they transition into the off-season. Wolff discusses the impact that his 200 IM swim has as a motivating factor for next year: “There’s definitely a fire that was lit inside of me. Now for next year, I feel even more motivated to beat those other guys that stood higher than me on the podium.”

Image Provided by Cornell Athletics

With the Big Red getting multiple NCAA B-Cuts, and the discussions about next season and the possibility of the team getting NCAA A-Cuts (since every “A” cut is invited, meaning a guarantee to go to NCAAs) prompted Wolff to state, “There’s going to be multiple A-Cuts, I know there’s multiple guys on the team that are really motivated to make NCAAs next year. So, get ready for that.”

The selection process to make nationals for swimming is complex and with only 235 spots for swimmers, securing a spot to go is an extremely strategic process. Wes Newman, The Philip H. Bartels ‘71 Head Coach of Men’s Swimming, explains: “There are ‘A’-cuts and ‘B’-cuts. Very few athletes achieve an A-cut; however, it is possible to make nationals without an A-cut. Ultimately, our goal is to have athletes make nationals. Usually, only about 3-5 athletes reach an A-cut per event, however, the fastest athletes are invited to NCAAs in each event. So, it is more important to rank in the top 30 than it is to actually achieve an A-cut.”

Image Provided by Cornell Athletics

Hoping to cultivate more of the magic we saw this season, these swimmers are aiming for the podium and even beyond NCAAs. daCosta is a name that dons the walls of Teagle on the School Record Board and Wall of Champions, and while some of his records have fallen (the 200 Back and 200 IM) his viewpoint on his swims have become more team-centric in his final years here at Cornell.

“I hope to make a lasting impact on the team. I want to help the team in any way that I can, and that is important to me. Hopefully, I get personal best times. I have gotten closer and closer each year. One almost poetic goal that I had was to win the 100 Back again because I won it freshman year at Ivies. Being able to win that again would be nice,” daCosta explained.

For swimmers Gurski and Wolff, they have their sights set on making qualifying times for the Olympic Time Trials in their respective events/ specialties on top of inching closer to NCAA “A” cuts.

Gurski explains, “I am determined to go for the Olympic Trial Cut. This last summer I swam the 1 Fly and I went a 54.3 [54.28] which is about .8 off of the Olympic Trial Cut. I swam the 2 Fly and went a 2:02 high something [2:02.79] which is about near 2 seconds off. I think I could make up that time and get it this summer.”

The 2022-2023 season gave the Big Red a lot to build upon and push toward for next season. It leaves a lot to be excited about in the future. You will not want to miss what these swimmers are up to. So get ready to head over to Teagle Hall “The Snake Pit” next season and cheer on the swim team as they continue to strive to become “one percent” better.


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