Pitt swim and dive gets ready for new season, starts off strong in first meet


Image via Pitt Athletics Swimming & Diving webpage

A Pitt swimmer competes during a meet against Penn State and Notre Dame on Saturday morning.

By Colm Slevin, Contributing Editor

Pitt swim and dive got off to a strong start in their first meet against Notre Dame and Penn State, with the men’s team taking second place ahead of the Nittany Lions. There is optimism amongst the swimmers, with their eyes set on NCAA births. 

Swimmer Marcin Goraj said he felt his team was ‘looking good’ in their season opener against Penn State and Notre Dame. Pitt’s men’s swim and dive team beat Penn State, their first meet against the school in 11 years, but the women’s team lost to the Nittany Lions. Both teams lost to Notre Dame.

“I was looking at our team and I was like ‘damn, we’re looking good in the water,’” Goraj said. “That’s really impressive after six weeks of training, maybe more. We were looking good.”

Goraj, a junior nutrition science major, is an important athlete in Pitt’s backstroke events. Goraj currently has a top 20 time nationally this year in the 200-yard backstroke and holds the school record in the event. 

“I’ve had a great summer. It was my personal best and I’m very excited for this year,” Goraj said. “I’m excited for new coaches and new fresh swimmers on our team. And I think we can be very competitive this year. So I’m looking forward to this year.”

At the meet, swimmer Cooper Van der Laan dropped a 54.41 in the 100-yard breast, hitting the wall less than half a second behind Pitt’s Jerry Chen. He also swam a 2:02.31 in the 200-yard breast and placed fourth behind Chen and two Penn State swimmers.

Van der Laan, a senior finance major, said his target this year is NCAAs. He dropped incredible times in the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke all last season, ultimately placing 3rd in the 100-yard breast at ACCs last year. 

Van der Laan said he’s focused on swimming high in the water to reduce drag.

“A lot of times we get caught up trying to swim fast. But ultimately, that doesn’t help you when you race,” Van der Laan said. “So it’s just trying to put the two together.” 

Diver Jess Vega, a sophomore criminal justice major, wasn’t able to dive last year because of an injury, but is excited to hit the boards again. Vega has already made the ACC cut on the 7-meter platform, but is looking to expand the events she can compete in.

“I don’t like the springboards, they scare me,” Vega said. “They push me in all the different directions that I can’t control and [the platforms] don’t do anything. I’m in control.”

Vega said she focused on platform diving in high school but is now expanding to the springboards. She came in 6th in the women’s 3-meter and 7th in the 1-meter. Vega said nerves impacted her performance, especially because of lack of experience on springboard.

“I think calming my nerves is the main thing because I realized that when I’m nervous, I’m really shaky, and especially on the springboard if you’re shaky, it’s really hard to control the dives that you’re doing,” Vega said. “So that would probably be my main thing, just calming my nerves, just telling myself that I know what I’m doing. Being confident in myself.”

While the Notre Dame and Penn State meet might have been a loss for the Panthers, they’re gearing up for Boston College and Georgia Tech this weekend. Goraj will face Merke Saka, a sophomore Georgia Tech swimmer whose top time in the 200-yard backstroke is two and a half seconds faster than Goraj. 

“I’m hoping the boys can get a W on the relays,” Goraj said, “because the last three meets we were so close in the medley relay and I’m hoping we can do this with Georgia.”

Goraj said the team is focusing on their relays during practice, particularly relay starts and finishes. 

“We’re doing a lot of new stuff at practice. I like our Wednesday afternoon practice because then we are focused on underwaters,” Goraj said. “And also on Fridays we’ve been focusing on relays.”

Goraj started the 400-yard medley off, setting a 47.93 and taking a lead for the Panthers. Van der Lann held on to the lead, going 53.95. The butterfly leg was a critical one in the relay, and both of Pitt’s opponents were able to make up some valuable time. Pitt senior swimmer Adam Mahler couldn’t hold both teams off during the final 100 meters. Pitt lost to Notre Dame by over a second and got touched out by Penn State.

Van der Laan said he is optimistic for the rest of the season following their first meet performance. 

“It’s really exciting,” Van der Laan said. “I think we’re all training in a really good upward trajectory.”

Goraj said he is looking to improve on his performance last year. Even though he broke the school record, Goraj said he didn’t feel competitive last season.

“I was frustrated about my performance at ACCs,” Goraj said. “But then the practice we did this summer showed me no matter what you did last season it will always be viable for the next time.”

Pitt’s next meet is Nov. 5 at 11 am at Georgia Tech.

Pitt, Penn State and Notre Dame swimmers race during a meet on Saturday morning.
(Image via Pitt Athletics Swimming & Diving webpage )