UMBC’s swimming and diving teams celebrated strong performances at the 2020 America East Championships, which concluded on February 16 at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The men’s team won the four-day meet, while the women’s team finished second to New Hampshire.
The Retriever men have now captured 12 of the 13 championships overall and three in a row since America East reinstituted men’s swimming and diving as a championship sport in the winter of 2018. This year, the team captured 16 of 18 swimming events and amassed 1,051 points, more than 200 points ahead of second-place Binghamton.
“We knew it was one of the deepest men’s squads we have ever had,” said head coach Chad Cradock ‘97, psychology. “They came into the meet with confidence and belief in themselves.”
UMBC also received 2020 America East Men’s Coaching Staff of the Year honors.
Leading “in every way”
UMBC senior Ilia Rattsev swept the freestyle sprints (50, 100, 200 yards). In doing so, he became the first-ever swimmer in America East history to sweep the freestyle sprints in three consecutive years. He earned the league’s David Alexander Coaches’ Award as the senior with the most points accrued at the meet.
America East also honored Rattsev with their Elite 18 Award, which is presented to the top-achieving student-athlete at the championships. Rattsev is maintaining a 3.97 GPA in bioinformatics and computational biology.
“Ilia is a leader in every way,” Cradock said. “We are grateful for his trust in all aspects of our program. We are going to miss him and all of the seniors.”
Retriever junior Kai Wisner, mechanical engineering, earned the meet’s Most Outstanding Swimmer Award. Wisner triumphed in the 500 freestyle, 400 individual medley, and 1650 freestyle.
Freshman Niklas Weigelt took home the men’s Most Outstanding Rookie Award. The California native earned golds as part of the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle relays, took silver in the 200 yard freestyle, and earned bronze in the 100 freestyle.
Senior Garrett Wlochowski, financial economics, also captured multiple golds for the Retrievers, winning the 100 and 200 backstroke events. He was also part of the title-winning 200 and 400 medley relay quartets.
In addition to sharing his pride in the success of UMBC’s graduating seniors, Cradock says, “Our freshmen have already made a huge impact and they give us a lot of hope for the future.” He also notes, “Our sophomores and juniors are our future leaders. They bought in more this year and their results showed this weekend that hard work does pay off.”
Success in the pool and the classroom
On the UMBC women’s team, junior Vanessa Esposito, psychology, took home gold in the 1650 freestyle. Sophomore Caroline Sargent, psychology, earned a pair of silvers in the 100 and 200 backstroke events and a bronze in the 200 individual medley.
“We started the year losing close races, but, as the season went on, we built our confidence and were able to find the power to win the close ones and get the job done,” Cradock said.
Junior Natalija Marin earned the women’s Elite 18 award, for academic excellence. The native of Belgrade, Serbia is maintaining a 3.87 grade-point average in mechanical engineering. Marin, a three-time champion in the league championships, took home silver in the 200 butterfly in the final individual event of this year’s meet.
“On the women’s team, we knew we had big shoes to fill after losing an amazing senior class.” Cradock said. “We found our new and returning athletes to be resilient and tough, and highly competitive. We are so proud of them.”
Cradock is quick to point out the tremendous support that he and his programs receive from the UMBC community, including university and athletics department leadership and staff, alumni, parents, and his own family.
“Your love and support does not go unnoticed by our student-athletes and our coaching staff,” says Cradock. “This family is the best, and one I am sure everyone would dream to be a part of.”
To support UMBC Swimming and Diving during Giving Day on February 27, visit givingday.umbc.edu.
Steve Levy, ‘85, interdisciplinary studies, of UMBC Athletics was the lead author for this article. For more swimming and diving coverage, see the UMBC Retrievers website.
Featured image (l-r): UMBC’s Ilia Rattsev, Jeremy Gates, Jack Carlisle, and Jethro Ssengonzi pose with the 2020 America East Championship trophy; Feb. 16, 2020; Worcester, Massachusetts. Photo by Brian Foley for America East.