Karimi breaks diving record as No. 10 Men’s and No. 14 Women’s Swim & Dive take on Division II programs

| Junior Sports Editor

WashU swimmers practice following their two meets against Division II opponents (Bri Nitsberg|Student Life)

The Washington University No. 10 men’s and No. 14 women’s swim teams defeated Division II University of Missouri–St. Louis (UMSL) on Jan. 12. The next day, the Bears traveled to Illinois to face off against Division II McKendree University, producing mixed results. The women’s team defeated the Bearcats, but the men’s team fell to McKendree.

First-year diver Shanze Karimi tallied 285.82 points in the 3-meter dive, breaking a WashU record set in 1998, highlighting a weekend that saw 23 first-place finishes in swimming events.

WashU v. University of Missouri–St. Louis

Following the Bears’ annual eight day training trip, the Bears traded the warm weather of south Florida for the sub-zero conditions of St. Louis to face the UMSL Tritons.

The Bears got off to a strong start against the Tritons, who the men defeated 130-75 and the women 175-62. The women’s 200-yard Medley Relay, of Elizabeth Chen, Hannah Lee, Peyton Watson, and Izzie Gattone, all first-years, won the event by over a second. 

The men’s 200-yard Medley Relay of senior Alex McCormick, junior Justin Rockaway, junior Nathan Lin, and senior Austin Bick clinched first place by over two seconds. Over the next 20 events, the Bears continued their dominance, nabbing 14 first-place and 47 top-three finishes. 

“I’m usually backstroke leg on a two medley relay and it’s always super energetic with it being the first race and all the team out there ready to cheer,” McCormick said. “It was a good start to the meet and it was a good practice for meets coming up in the future at conference and nationals.”

In their last home meet for the Bears, seniors Bick and Kyle Wolford notched first-place finishes in the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke respectively with times of 21.30 and 50.77.

Sophomore Ethan Feng, who has found success in freestyle events, continued his dominant form, notching two victories in the 100 and 200 freestyles with times of 47.15 and 1:42.45 respectively. His time in the 100 freestyle was only half a second off of his personal best set at last year’s University Athletic Association (UAA) Championships.

Despite the fatigue of the training trip, Feng was able to stick to his usual race strategy of taking the first half of the race steady before attacking in the second half.

“[When] I dove in, I was already tired from the training trip,” Feng said. “So I just took it easy the first half and then really tried to hammer it home in the second half, which is not too different from my normal race strategy, but it was really compounded by the fact that I was already tired going in. And it wasn’t helped by the fact that we had a pretty tough practice the day before.” 

On the women’s team, the freshman class, which has impressed all season, produced three first-place finishes. Lee won in the 100-yard breastroke, Lili Sandor finished narrowly ahead of sophomore Rin Iimi in the 200-yard IM, and Chen placed first in the 100-yard backstroke.

The team’s strong performance against UMSL on the heels of a grueling week of training proved encouraging for Feng.

“Being able to pull out a victory and put up some fast times was kind of reassuring because we’re entering championship season,” he said.

Head Coach Brad Shively echoed this sentiment. “I think any time you win a meet it’s a positive affirmation that you are doing the right things in practice,” he wrote in a statement to Student Life.

WashU v. McKendree University 

The next day, the Bears made the 33-minute drive across the Mississippi River to take on the Division II McKendree University Bearcats, who are ranked in the Division II top-ten in both men’s and women’s. The women’s team continued their impressive performance, defeating the Bearcats 161-138, while the men’s team fell 102-178. 

Karimi’s record setting performance in the three-meter dive punctuated the meet, as she tallied 285.82 points across six dives, besting the 26-year old record of 285.67.

“I was just so surprised, that was not my goal at all,” Karimi said about breaking the record. “It was my teammate who came up to me and told me and I was just so surprised and grateful that I have such awesome teammates to support me through this.”

Shively, similarly, credits the supportive atmosphere around the diving well to Karimi and the squad’s success.

“We’ve built a culture of high expectations in a supportive atmosphere, and we use a range of strategies to bring out the best in every athlete,” Shively wrote.

The Bears’ women’s team nabbed seven victories against the Division II powerhouse, which proved enough for WashU to prevail. Leng, Chen, Lee, and senior Eve Kearns all had repeat victories in the 50 freestyle, 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke, and 100 breaststroke. Sandor traded her 200 IM win on Friday for first in the 200 breaststroke, while Rin came away victorious in the 400 IM. Sophomore Ali Roche won the 200 backstroke.

On the men’s side, junior Danny Sibley won the 400 IM while Feng nabbed a second victory in the 200 freestyle.

“Winning that 200 free was pretty special because those are fast dudes. [To] be able to put up very similar times to them is something really special,” Feng said about his victory on Saturday. “It’s something I’m pretty proud of.”

The Bears have two dual meets left, against DePauw University on Jan. 20 and Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis on Feb. 2 before the UAA Championship on Feb. 14-17.

The Bears will continue to train through the next slate of dual meets before a short taper leading into their conference championship.

Karimi hopes to use the last two dual meets to continue honing her strategies for competing.

“It’s really intimidating, competing, especially in diving because you’re the only one out there and everyone is watching you,” she said. “So just trying to stay focused but also have fun at the same time is honestly the best way to get the best results.”

McCormick also hopes to use the upcoming meets, including against Division I IUPUI, to “[dial] in on little details that will make us just slightly faster.” The next few weeks for the team will be crucial as they approach the UAA Championship in March.

“When it comes to [swimming] at UAA, when I dive in the pool, I know exactly what I’m doing,” Feng said. “The last thing I want is to dive in the pool and [have] it feel completely novel.”

This article was updated on Jan. 17, 2024 to include additional reporting.

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