The last time Rowan Men’s Swimming and Diving team swam in a natatorium competitively, it was way back during the 2019-2020 season, and they made it a habit to consistently dominate the opposition.
During that season, the team claimed not only the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) regular season title, but also the Metropolitan Championship. Unfortunately, their season came to a screeching halt not long after due to the coronavirus pandemic, and they did not swim the following season because of more Covid concerns.
With nearly two years passing since their last competitive meet, everyone on the team is focused and hungry to get back to winning, according to Head Coach Brad Bowser.
“Our primary focus is what we can do each day to improve ourselves for the next meet,” Bowser said. “The focus since day one when I started eight years ago has always been to win conference championships, but the big focus that I try and push to my guys is to remember what it’s like to be an athlete on a college platform. And, for the young guys, just get some experience and enjoy every second of it.”
Cutting the 2019-2020 season short for the team is just one instance of COVID-19 interfering with the team. One other crucial factor stemming from the pandemic is the team’s potential rust after almost two years of not swimming. That is why the coaching staff is bringing even more energy in practice to get the team back up to speed.
“There is always rust. Even when there’s not a year off, there’s always some rust. You can get it after a month of not swimming,” Bowser said. “The biggest obstacle is having the meet atmosphere in practice so that they are gaining as much ability as possible and so that they get better throughout the year. We will see where we’re at after this weekend.”
There is a long list of swimmers returning to the team in 2021-2022, including seniors Greg Cann, Kevin Gillooly, Matt Meretic, Dylan Regan and Kevin Yanagisawa. The juniors that will be making their comeback this season include Matt Degennaro, Rocco Evangelista, Garrett Kerr, Joe Rucci, Dominick Sheppard, Alex Sukach and James Yates.
Even with a large number of veterans returning, there are still a sizable amount of newcomers, as well. To be exact, there are 13 new swimmers that were not on the team when Rowan last participated in a meet.
Incorporating the rookies into the program has been a challenge at times, but it is a challenge that the coaching staff and veterans are up for.
“It takes time,” Bowser said. “It’s taken about a month for new guys to understand the program… I know it won’t happen overnight, but I believe we have a core leadership group and good guys who want the best for this program.”
Returning fifth-year senior and All-American Kevin Gillooly echoed his coach’s statement.
“It’s been interesting,” Gillooly said. “It’s been very hard to judge this season and give the young guys some perspective on how it will go, but it’s a challenge that we’re all up for. A lot of veterans have stepped up into leadership roles, and we really just have a solid group of guys. The first few weeks were really tough, but as we get closer to the first meet everyone is getting locked in. After the first meet, things will be a lot easier because everyone will see what college meets are all about.”
With the unprecedented situation of not swimming competitively for over a year and this being his last season at Rowan, Gillooly is viewing the upcoming year with a business-as-usual mindset, however, there is some emotion involved as well.
“I’d be lying if I said there aren’t emotions attached,” Gillooly said. “With me being a graduate student, I could’ve swam anywhere this year, but I chose to stay at Rowan because it means something to me… I feel like I was robbed of my senior year here, so I’m just trying to take care of business. But there is definitely a sense of closure here, and I’m really happy to be back regardless of this season’s outcome.”
With just a few days separating Rowan and their season opener against York College, Gillooly is feeling confident in he and the team’s ability to pick up where they left off.
“I’m very confident, but it is going to take a lot of work,” Gillooly said. “We are underdogs this year, which is motivating. Unfortunately, last season, due to Covid, we had to sit on the sidelines while TCNJ won the NJAC championship, but we feel like we are primed for a successful season. This roster has so much potential, and we’re just ready to get back out there in our chase to be top 10 in the country.”
In their pursuit to reclaim the NJAC conference title, the Rowan Men’s Swimming and Diving team will have their work cut out for them, but it’s safe to say that the team is ready for any challenge that comes their way. The team will face York at home on Saturday morning.
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