On Feb. 8, the Mills College swim team departed for Elsah, Illinois to compete in the 2017 Liberal Arts Championships (LACs) at Principia College.
The LACs are an annual end of season championship for swim and dive teams from Division Three liberal arts schools that don’t have a specified conference within their state. The meet lasts for four days, with seven sessions lasting from three to five hours each.
The LACs are the biggest meet of the swim season, and the team trained all year for this meet. This is the only meet where the team gets to wear their competition suits which help them to swim faster, and reduce drag.
“We have these really tight suits that go from your knees to your shoulders, and it takes one person 20 minutes to get it on with help, so we all went into the locker room together and slowly inched our swimsuits up,” swimmer Morgan Leishman said. “You couldn’t do it by yourself.”
Along with helping each other into their swimsuits, the team bonds by piling into the hotel bathtub and shaving their legs and arms together in hopes of cutting a fraction of a second from their race times.
Leishman suffered from an injury in November, leaving her in a walking boot for much of the season, only getting it removed a week before the LACs. The swim team remained supportive of Leishman throughout her recovery, and sophomore Julianna Lopez even taped her foot to match Leishman’s during practice to keep her from feeling left out.
“I went in with really low expectations because I got the boot off a week before we left,” Leishman said. “But I swam my first event and dropped a bunch of time, and then the rest of the weekend got progressively better. It was kind of sore when I finished, but worth it in the end.”
Leishman broke a school record after taking 2nd place in the 200 Back, placed 5th in the 100 Back, and helped set four relay records. The swim team broke 11 school records this year at the LACs, and many members got “lifetime bests,” meaning they swam faster than they ever had before.
Both Leishman and teammate Melissa Berkay, assistant design editor for The Campanil, were named to the LACs All-Championship team for Mills, which requires the swimmer to be placed in the top three of an event or relay. Berkay placed first in the 200 Fly and second in both the 100 Fly and the 200 IM.
Berkay also won the 200 Fly last year at the LACs, being the first member of the Mills swim team to win an event at the conference. Placing first again was special for Berkay, but for a different reason this year.
“It was my last meet on the Mills College swim team, so it was a really emotional and monumental meet,” Berkay said. “It meant a lot to me to get first place for the college because it’s the last time I’ll ever be able to.”
Berkey is finishing up her four years of NCAA eligibility, meaning she won’t be able to swim collegiately anymore. Seniors Macie Lopez, Ashley Young and Daniela Fiestas-Paredes have also completed their NCAA eligibility, making the LACs their last meet.
“It’s really hard to think about, but I will keep swimming afterwards, even though I won’t represent Mills as a team,” Berkay said. “I can still wear my cap and represent the Mills alumni afterwards in any open water or master’s swimming I do.”
Swim Coach Neil Virtue is proud of the hard work Berkay has put in during her time on the Mills swim team.
“Her accomplishments have been nothing short of phenomenal,” Virtue said. “She’s been an amazing asset to our program.”
Virtue is proud of the entire team, and said that his favorite part of the meet was the team energy as a whole.
“Their energy and effort and support for each other was just so much fun,” Virtue said. “They represented Mills amazingly well across all aspects.”
Although the team was dealing with exhaustion, the pressure to swim well and recovering from injuries, Virtue was proud of the team’s impressive accomplishments.
“It was incredible,” Virtue said. “Everything just fell into place.”