By Thomas Becker
Some of Canada's brightest collegiate-level swimmers are making their way to UPEI for a chance to compete in the illustrious Atlantic University Sport (AUS) Swimming Championships.
The weekend meet is set for February 10-12 and will feature teams from six schools – Acadia, Dalhousie, Memorial, Mount Allison, University of New Brunswick and the University of Prince Edward Island.
"This is our one opportunity this year to have all the other teams come in and experience our pool," said Panthers head coach Tom Ponting. "We have, by far, the newest, most up-to-date pool out of the schools."
A field of 120 swimmers will hit the pool looking to entertain crowds, while breaking records, qualifying for nationals and making appearances on the podium.
"This is the fastest swimming P.E.I. is going to see in a long while," Ponting said. "You have a showcase of young swimmers who are incredibly talented and fast."
On the men's side, the Dalhousie Tigers come in as the early favourites having captured the AUS crown in 18 consecutive seasons, while the women aim for their 16th straight title. But after facing some adversity – a series of injuries and the temporary closure of their pool – the door may be open for other strong teams to make a run at the championship banner.
"We're going to have to be on our game if we want to have a similar result and keep the streak alive," said Tigers head coach Lance Cansdale.
Acadia freshmen Brett Liem and Ben Henger headline the Axemen and have proven to be capable threats to the Tigers' reign. Memorial's Sam Leawood and David Haines each recorded U Sports qualifying times and could sneak atop the podium.
On the women's side, Mount Allison's Olivia Feschuk and Allison Loewen present a problem for the powerful Tigers in the backstroke and freestyle, respectively. While UNB's Lauren Adams and Memorial's Veronica Reid and Charli LeBlanc round out the podium contenders.
"I expect challenges from all over the place," Cansdale said.
UPEI fields the smallest team with only nine swimmers on their roster, but the host team isn't going down without a fight.
"They're the big dogs, but I'm hoping my crew can do some damage this weekend," Ponting said. "If we can split them up on the podium or if we can split them up on points, we'll take it."
UPEI freestyle swimmer Rebekah Nitschmann will step on the starting block for the last time as a member of the Panthers and says she can't think of a better way to finish off her senior year than to swim in her home pool.
"In a way it reminds people that we are here. As such a small team, we don't often get the recognition or publicity that other teams receive. But by hosting the Championships we get to proudly show off our university," she said. "It's our chance to show our Panther pride.
Nitschmann hopes hosting the big event will offer more exposure for the UPEI swimming program.
"Hopefully it will give our team a jump start for next year in regards to gaining more support from the university and gaining new team members."
Cansdale, meanwhile, is looking forward to his return to P.E.I. where he hopes his team – led by standouts Gavin Dyke and Phoebe Lenderyou – can sweep the championship banners.
"Charlottetown is an exciting place to be," he said. "I would say to anybody wanting to experience a fun and fast college meet that this would be the one to see."
MEET THE TEAMS:
Coach– Gary MacDonald
Swimmers to watch – Brett Liem (1st Yr Free/Breast specialist from Bedford, NS): Became the first U Sports qualifier in the 50m Free. At the Kemp-Fry Invitational in November, Liem broke three varsity records and earned his second U Sports standard in the 50m Breaststroke.
Adam Deutsch (3rd Yr Breast/IM specialist from Kingston, NS): Placed third in the 50m Breast at the Jack Scholtz Invitational. Deutsch came very close to his first U Sports standard in the 400m IM at the Kemp-Fry Invitational.
Ben Henger (1st Yr Fly/Back specialist from Windsor, NS): Broke the varsity record in the 100m Fly at the Kemp-Fry Invitational.
Hannah Doiron (2nd Yr Breaststroke specialist from Dartmouth, NS): In the November meet, Doiron captured three fourth place finishes in breaststroke events, while breaking three varsity records.
Nicole Windsor (1st Yr Fly/Free specialist from Halifax, NS): In November, Windsor made four finals appearances and had a solid second place finish in the 100m Fly, just shy of the U Sports standard.
Coach – Lance Cansdale
Swimmers to watch – Phoebe Lenderyou (3rd Yr Back/Fly specialist from Newcastle, ENG): Lenderyou continues to add to her illustrious career as an Academic All-Canadian. She remains undefeated in AUS competition and is coming off a season where she stood on the podium at the CIS Championships. She currently holds six individual AUS records (resetting the 50m Fly in Nov.) and two relay records.
Claire Yurkovich (2nd Yr Distance Free specialist from Edmonton, AB): The distance star has already qualified for this year's U Sport Swimming Championships in taking the 400m and 800m Frees at the AUS Kemp-Fry Invitational in November. Yurkovich also scored in both events at last years CIS Championships.
Lise Cinq-Mars (2nd Yr Fly/Back specialist from Newmarket, ON): Cinq-Mars scored in three events at last years CIS Championships and has already qualified for the U Sport Championships this season in the 50m, 100m and 200m Fly. She was last year's AUS Rookie of the Year and has won all the 200m Fly races this season.
Gavin Dyke (4th Yr Freestyle specialist from Mount Pearl, NL): Being a past AUS champion and CIS finalist, as well as, Swimmer of the Year, Dyke is up to form as he reset his 200m Free record in the Kemp-Fry Invitational this season along with being part of both the 800m Fr/R and 400m M/R AUS record setting teams.
Keenan Teghtsoonian (3rd Yr Breaststroke/IM specialist from Winnipeg, MB): An Academic All-Canadian, past AUS Champion and CIS scorer, Keenan should see the podium in the IMs and the Breaststrokes. Teghtsoonian was also part of the 800m Fr/R with Dyke that sheared three seconds off the old AUS record in November.
Alec Karlsen(1st Yr IM/Fly specialist from Boerum, NOR): First-year swimmer set a new AUS record in the 400m IM. Karlsen has also posted U Sport Top 10 performances this season in the 200m Fly along with the 400m IM.
Coach– Duffy Earle
Swimmers to watch – Sam Leawood (4th Yr Free/Fly specialist from Mount Pearl, NL): Posted U Sports qualifying times in the 100m Freestyle event after finishing secondoverall at the Kemp-Fry Invitational.
David Haines (5th Yr Backstroke specialist from Conception Bay South, NL): First male Sea-Hawk to qualify for the U Sports Championship this season. Haines placed third in the 200m Backstroke to punch a ticket to the championships in February.
Veronica Reid (2nd Yr Breaststroke specialist from William Lake, BC): Won the 50m Breaststroke, earning a berth at U Sports Championships.
Charli LeBlanc(3rd Yr Sprint Free/Back specialist from Yarmouth, NS): LeBlanc earned a spot in the U Sports Championship in the 100m Backstroke after a second-place finish.
Mount Allison Mounties
Coach – John Peters
Swimmers to watch – Geraint Berger (3rd Yr Freestyle specialist from Bedford, NS): Qualified for U Sports Championship in November. Best events are 50m, 100m and 200m Free. Berger also qualified for Olympic trials last year.
Olivia Feschuk (3rd Yr Fly/Back specialist from Halifax, NS): Qualified for U Sports Championship in November. Best events are 100m Fly and 200m Back.
Allison Loewen (4th Yr Freestyle specialist from Montreal, QC): Two-time U Sports qualifier and was the Mounties Athlete of the Year. Best events are 50m and 100m Free.
Dylan Wooley-Berry (4th Yr Butterfly specialist from Sackville, NB): Best events are 50m and 100m Butterfly.
University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds
Coach – Robin Ferdenand
Swimmers to watch – Lauren Adam (4th Yr Breaststroke specialist from Fredericton, NB): Earned a U Sport qualifying time at the Kemp-Fry Invitational in the 50m Breaststroke. Adam is battling a knee injury, but training hard around her injury and has been consistently one of the top breaststrokers in the AUS.
Justin LeBlanc (5th Yr Breaststroke specialist from Dieppe, NB): Had a U Sports qualifying time performance at Kemp-Fry Invitational in 50m Breaststroke – narrowly missing the AUS record by 0.1 seconds.
Eric Meng (1st Yr Free/Breast specialist from Fredericton, NB): First-year sprinter from Fredericton. Has recently swam lifetime best times and is looking to get under the USports qualifying time in 50m Free.
University of Prince Edward Island Panthers
Coach– Tom Ponting
Swimmers to watch – Stephanie Hatamaya (5th Yr Sprint specialist from Stillwater, OK): Won the 50m and 100m Free races against AUS' best at the Tri-Dual Meet at Acadia in January.
Rebekah Nitschmann(4th Yr Freestyle specialist from Perth, ON): Will race everything from the 50m to the 800m Free.
Pieter VanLeeuwen (1st Yr Freestyle Specialist from Hunter River, PE): VanLeeuwn has won medals at all the conference meets this year, and is set to take some more during the AUS Championships.