Men, women reach .500 with win at SMS

By Gus Bode

There may have been no better refuge from the bitter cold that hit Carbondale Saturday than the natatorium in the Recreation Center.

That day spectators saw a hot rivalry come to a boil in a heated pool.

SIU’s swimming and diving team met nemesis Southwest Missouri State in what the public address announcer described as the “Clash of the Mid-Major Titans.”

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An accurate description indeed, seeing as how these two programs have constantly gone head to head for the Missouri Valley Conference title the last 10 years.

“Imagine putting your best effort forward for four years and always coming up short,” said head coach Rick Walker. “Today we didn’t come up short. On the guy’s side it’s always been back and forth. Being on the right side of it is always a good feeling.”

When all was said and done, the Salukis looked like freshwater bass while their friends from Missouri floundered and flopped like fish out of water to the tune of 135-106 for the women and 139-104 for the men.

It was a party atmosphere from the start as up-tempo music blared out of a sound system throughout the pool area during warm-ups and continued during breaks in the meet. Unlike their last meet against Western Kentucky, the Salukis established control early, winning both the women and men’s 400-yard medley relays.

“I believe that swimming is a really mental sport; more than 50 percent is mental,” said sophomore Nora Bunford. “We decided to believe in ourselves. Everybody worked hard. We were mad because they beat us [the women] last year, and the guys are mad because they beat the girls.”

Altogether the men won seven of 13 events and the women won eight of 13.

The clothes of those standing by the pool during races soaked in a fair share of water as both teams aggressively dived in to get the best advantage they could. SIU flew through the opening events, taking the first seven in a row and opening up a lead that proved to be insurmountable.

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“We worked really hard, and we were really prepared,” said senior Rachel Green. “I don’t think they were as prepared for us as we were for them.”

A handful of multiple winners set the pace for the day’s success during this run.

Bunford was part of the 400-medley relay team and later won the 200-yard individual medley and the 200 breaststroke.

Freshman Antonio Santoro owned the 200-yard events for the men, winning both the freestyle and the butterfly.

Senior Marcelo Possato was in the men’s 400-medley relay team and later won the 200-yard backstroke, with teammates Gareth McGee and Christian Tinajero taking second and third. The Saluki men also swept the top three spots in the 500-yard freestyle, led by junior Jason Sigler and followed by brothers Igor and Ivan Sanchez.

These two wins proved to be nails in the coffin for SMS as any chance of overtaking SIU slipped away.

For Sigler, the reigning MVC men’s swimmer of the week, the win in the 500 was coupled with a second straight victory in the 1000-yard freestyle. It would be hard to find fault with anyone who screamed “repeat” on Sigler or Green’s behalf. The MVC women’s swimmer of the week, Green, put up a career-best time in winning the 50-yard freestyle (24.51 seconds).

Another noteworthy mark came from junior Briley Bergen, who swam a season best in the 1000-yard free, clocking in at 10 minutes and 23.08 seconds.

Currently both men’s (5-5) and women’s (4-4) teams are at .500. This fact, along with improved individual performances, has the Salukis in as good a place as they have been all year.

“We are very happy for today,” Santoro said. “But it’s not enough. We want conference. We want the conference. That is our final objective that we are swimming for.”

Reporter Kyle Means can be reached at [email protected]

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