by Pete Janny & Nicole Fitzsimmons, Sports Editor & Asst. News Editor
Manhattan swimmers and divers probably have the busiest schedule of all the student-athletes at the school. Finding the motivation to get up everyday at 5:30 a.m. for 6 a.m. practice is not easy, especially when the rest of your typical day consists of classes, more swimming, and then homework. The cycle repeats itself day after day, regardless of how your body feels or how far behind you are with homework.
College swimmers at MAAC member schools have been living this type of hectic lifestyle year after year since the conference adopted the sport in 1984. These 36 years worth of competition has featured countless great Manhattan swimmers for a program that has maintained a respectable reputation, despite the fact the program does not have a pool campus.
Of the generations worth of Manhattan swimmers who have come and gone, there are nine who have stood out from the rest, as deemed by the MAAC as part of the conference’s 40th Anniversary tributes. These honorary tributes are done for each athletic program in the conference for the purpose of recognizing the best student-athletes who have competed at MAAC schools throughout the past four decades.
The recipients of this special honor for Manhattan swimming and diving make up a stacked group of performers whose tenures at the school range from as early as 2003 to present day. The list includes nine swimmers between both men’s and women’s teams — Alexandra Hutzler’18, Courtney Arduini ‘07, Megan O’Keefe ‘09, Bridget Latino ‘12, Kali Nembach ‘20, Robert Varieur ‘13, Mike Mackay ‘15, Lance Neuendorf ‘16, Dallan Treanor ‘16, and current graduate student Timothy Valentine’20.
The commemoration of these accomplished Jaspers has allowed the program to reflect on the progress made over the years. With there being no season in sight — which traditionally starts in October and ends in February — it’s been an arduous semester spent training for the current crop of swimmers and divers at the school.
Valentine, one of nine performers recognized and an active swimmer for the program, is no stranger to change. Currently on his fifth year with the program, after retaining another year of eligibility due to injury, Valentine has had three different coaches at Manhattan — a narrative far more commonly experienced by professional sports teams than college sports teams.
Despite the series of coaching changes, Valentine has willed himself to historic heights for the program. During his freshman season of 2016-2017, Valentine etched his name in the program record books by becoming the first Jasper to ever win a ECAC Championship, which he secured in the 100 breaststroke. He also boasts the school record in the 50 breaststroke and a fourth place finish in the MAAC Championships.
For the past three seasons, Valentine has enjoyed the continuity and lessons learned under head coach Patrick Malone. The timing of Malone’s arrival was a good break for Valentine, who was coming off a shortened sophomore season due to injury. Under Malone’s tutelage, Valentine made a successful comeback the following year and has seen his development progress ever since. The steadying presence of Malone did more than just give Valentine the confidence and emotional support he needed; he also helped him refine his swimming mechanics.
“Coach Pat has been so great for me,” Valentine said. “I think just our open dialogue and knowing that I can come to him with anything, whether it be swimming, school, life, he just always has that open door policy where it doesn’t matter what you’re going through, talk with him, and you’re able to just find more closure about different things. I think that really helped me. I think his approach to swimming has helped me also, with a big stress on technique. I’ve always been somebody as a swimmer who relies mostly on my athleticism, rather than my technique. So having that to complement my athleticism has been huge for me.”
Malone cherishes the opportunity to help his swimmers reach their potential in the water. His job becomes even more enriching when a swimmer of Valentine’s caliber is on board, thus giving him the chance to witness greatness.
“For me, the coaching aspect of it is just letting young people like Tim achieve their desired level of success,” Malone said. “I am creating the map for them to help achieve their goals. But for me, it’s their accomplishment and I just get to help guide them. So I’m very, very excited about continuing to do that with our new group this year.”
Since swimming usually only generates public interest during the Summer Olympics once every four years, it takes a special commitment behind the scenes from coaches and swimmers worldwide to advance the brand of the sport. Malone had his own run of glory as a swimmer, culminating with an All-American Honorable Mention during his career at Division III school Rowan University, after getting started as a young boy. From that moment on, his love for the craft has not faded an ounce, making it only natural for him to get into coaching after his own career.
“This has been a big dream for me,” Malone said in regards to his opportunity to coach at Manhattan. “My journey has allowed me the ability to re-fall in love with the sport that I started doing at age five all the way through my college years. And to be able to just help create that same love that I had as a young swimmer to a future generation and just continue growing our sport that doesn’t really get too limelight, unless it’s an Olympic year.”
The future of college sports is still shrouded in mystery with there being no end in sight of the COVID-19 pandemic. With fall sports like swimming and diving currently on the backburner, the focus is now on making sure the college basketball and college football seasons get completed given their money-making value for many Division I schools. Furthermore, the reality that high school sports across the country have had more success restarting than college sports is indicative of how bad things are. The coming months will likely be crucial for college sports in limiting the residual effects of the pandemic.
The fallout could be even more devastating for sports like swimming and diving. In the case of the Manhattan swimming and diving program, the loss of the fall season means no pool time; not even for practice. Additionally, members of the team are dispersed with some in-person and some remote — which has made it harder to get to know each other, especially for the freshmen. Still, Valentine is ready for the challenges that lie ahead in order to get back to doing what he loves most.
“I think once we get back in the pool, there definitely is going to be a level of appreciation, especially because we’ve been out of it for so long,” Valentine said. “Personally I haven’t been able to swim since March, because I don’t have a club team that was open during the pandemic. Definitely that first jump in, it’s gonna be a little weird, but I think it’s gonna be something that you grow to appreciate because you don’t know how much you miss something until it’s taken away.”
With Valentine around for one more year, Malone is excited to watch him build on his legacy, as well as be a source of inspiration for the younger swimmers and divers at Manhattan.
“He’s been phenomenal and a crucial aspect since I came on board at Manhattan College in regards to changing the culture, creating the level of accountability amongst ourselves, especially with so much prior turnover in leadership,” Malone said.