Daily Egyptian

Seniors recall time lapse before final laps

By Aaron Graff

The senior swimmers and divers were honored Saturday before jumping in the pool for their last regular season meet against the University of Evansville Purple Aces.

Prior to the meet, 16 seniors received recognition from fans, coaches and teammates to celebrate their time as a Saluki. The remaining undergraduates formed a tunnel for the seniors to walk through before being greeted by Athletic Director Mario Moccia, Chancellor Rita Cheng, the coaching staff and a teammate to give them a rose, a gift bag and a balloon.

The Salukis won 23 of 26 events and tied for first in the women’s 50-yard backstroke. SIU’s men won all 13 events.

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Senior Pamela Benitez was one of the first names called for recognition. Freshman Andy Ross was announcing the seniors career high points and statistics, and Benitez has achieved enough accomplishments in her career that it brought tears to her eyes when Ross was naming them.

“I don’t have words to tell how many emotions I had,” Benitez said.

The women swam half the distance of the normal events since their conference championship is two weeks away, but it did not stop Benitez from adding three more wins to her swimming resume.

Benitez won the 500-yard and 250-yard freestyle races individually and also swam the first leg of the 100-yard freestyle relay. Sophomore Helena Amorim finished in second place for both the 500-yard and 250-yard freestyle races. Benitez said she was extremely proud of Amorim because she cares about the sport.

“I know she works really hard,” Benitez said. “I practice with her and I can see that she has that swimmer mentality about getting better.”

Benitez helped lead SIU’s women to a win with a score of 156.5 to 86.5.

The men’s conference tournament is three weeks after the women’s, so they swam the full distances Saturday. Walker said he was pleased with how SIU’s men competed. He said they are at a phase where they are not well rested, but they are not tired either, so their results could vary.

“When their bodies are asked to go really fast or compete, it responds awkwardly sometimes,” Walker said.

The Saluki senior men were lucky they were not models on a runway. Seniors Eddy Lynk and George Minkel both slipped and fell on the tile toward the end of the tunnel when they were being recognized.

“It actually hurt a little bit,” Minkel said. “I’m just really glad my mom didn’t see me fall.”

Minkel said even though the fall hurt, it did not affect his performance.

Individually, Minkel finished third in the 50-yard freestyle and second in the 100-yard freestyle to contribute seven points to the Saluki men’s 186 to 45 win.

“It was the last dual meet in my competitive career,” he said. “To do it with a great group of people is a great way to go.”

The Saluki diving teams swept all four events. The women had the top three finishers in the 1-meter and 3-meter dives. Senior Brittany Weigel finished third in both events.

“I did a couple of dives that were very new for me,” she said. “They’re some of the hardest dives I’ve ever done, and I knocked them out.”

After the final dive, all diving members of SIU and Evansville huddled together and cheered each other on. Weigel said the two teams have always gotten along, and they were all congratulating each other’s seniors.

“We respect them a lot,” she said. “They’ve always been friendly competition for us and we love them.”

Weigel said her final regular season meet could not have gone any better.

The women will host the Missouri Valley Conference championships beginning Feb. 13 in the Dr. Edward J. Shea Natatorium. The men will travel to Buffalo, N.Y., to compete in the Mid-American Conference championships beginning March 6.

Walker said this season’s group of seniors is irreplaceable.

“I’ve been doing this here for 27 years, and not a year goes by that makes it any easier,” he said. “You invest in them, you council them, you prepare them. So to watch them swim and put in their best efforts was really nice to watch.”

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