Setting records and winning medals, the women of the McMaster swimming team led the Marauders in a successful weekend at the Ontario University Athletics Swimming Championships in London, Ontario. The women finished the three-day event with a bronze medal effort and a total of 17 U Sports qualifications for the team as a whole.
First-year Isabelle Lei was awarded OUA Rookie of the Year, winning gold in the 200m freestyle event and silver at 100m, in addition to a pair of bronze medals in the 200m and 400m free relays. Fellow rookie Veronica Nichol also performed well, winning silver in the 200m backstroke.
While the first-year swimmers were busy making their presence known in their first OUA championship appearances, veteran’s like Olivvya Chow, Hannah Dvorski and Carleen Ginter lead the way in and out of the pool.
For Chow, who first picked up swimming to combat health issues — epilepsy and asthma — falling in love with swimming and excelling at it at such a high level is the icing on the cake. The fifth-year Economics and Business major brought home three golds and two silver individual medals and set two OUA records in the 50m and 100m breaststroke events. She also helped bring home silver and bronze medal the 400 and 200m medley relays.
Chow’s performance this weekend is no surprise to those who follow OUA swimming but the graduating athlete of distinction still surprises herself sometimes.
“After I finished my last race the 200m individual medley and I got out of the pool, I thought I was fourth and I was okay with that,” said Chow. “Then all my teammates came over to me to hug me and they told me I was second and I immediately just broke down because I was so happy that I scored more points for the team and they were so happy for me. It was an amazing feeling.”
Although swimming involves many individual races, for Chow and the rest of the Marauders, this is as much of a team sport as any other. The family dynamic, love and support that embodies this team is the reason why all three girls chose to come to McMaster. Dvorski, a fourth-year swimmer and one of the team’s captains who originally planned to swim in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, fell in love with Mac’s program after one visit.
“You’re on a team where 50 people have your back and are there to catch you when you fall — and they have caught me many times,” said Dvorski who took home two bronze relay medals this weekend. “Just having that support system and being surrounded by so many amazing leaders in my first and second year, I’ve been trying my best to show the same skills in the way that I lead.”
Like Dvorski, the support from her team was what made veteran Ginter come back after sitting out last season due to a concussion. The tight-knit roster reminded her why she truly loved swimming.
“Being away from swimming and not being able to go swimming practices with the team and competing for the team made me realize how much I really love it,” said Ginter.
The fourth years’ return resulted in an individual bronze medal in the 800m freestyle event.
“This weekend was just so crazy and emotional, but it was the most memorable weekend of my life,” said Ginter. “The Mac team is such an amazing group of people where everyone is just so encouraging and fun to be around. I’m so proud of all the outstanding performances this weekend, but the positive and enthusiastic environment that the team created on deck is what makes it so memorable for me.”
Though this championship marked the last of OUA championships for Chow — though possibly the beginning of an Olympic career, she has not decided yet — both Ginter and Dvorski have one more year of eligibility to continue to guide the women’s team to reach greater heights in the year to come. But for now, the ladies main focus is what will take place in the next two weeks.
With the U Sports Championships being held from Feb. 22 through 24 at the University of Toronto, the women plan to build off their confidence and momentum from the OUA Championships and make a big splash at the national level.