College Racing in the COVID-19 Era: An Alternative Option

KNOXVILLE, TN - December 5, 2013 - A member of the Villanova University swim team watches the Men's 50 Yard Freestyle during the USA Swimming AT&T Winter National Championships at the Allan Jones Aquatic Center in Knoxville, Tennessee

College Racing in the COVID-19 Era: An Alternative Option

It is safe to say that racing has been few and far between since the coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down. After having NCAAs canceled in March, swimmers hoped things would be back to normal in time for the fall.

With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise in the United States, athletes’ hope has turned into concern that there will be a severely impacted 2020-2021 season. Many teams are unable to be on campus this semester, and of the teams fortunate enough to be, most are under tight time and personnel restrictions.

Almost every conference across all three divisions has canceled fall competition. Division III powerhouse conferences New England Small College Athletic Conference (NECSAC) and North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) have gone as far as to cancel their entire seasons.

Clinging onto the belief that there will be at least a shortened season in the spring, coaches are getting creative to get their swimmers ready and motivated for an anticipated start in January. One team which has found a unique way around the lack of fall competition is Villanova University.

Itching to see their swimmers go fast again, head coach Rick Simpson and his staff came up with the Caritas Cup Race Series. The name comes from Villanova’s Caritas Commitment, a community-first initiative by the university to encourage safe and selfless practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

The series will consist of three swim meets and concludes with a mid-season invitational-esque championship meet, with each meeting having a different theme. The action kicked off on Saturday with an individual medley focused meet and continues with middle-distance and sprint meets on the first and second Saturdays in November, respectively. The series concludes the following weekend with the two-day Championship meet.

Additionally, to add some extra flair to the competitions, the coaching staff came up with various categories, and after each meet, will award different colored caps to the top-ranked male and female in each one. The overall points leader is awarded a yellow cap, the blue cap goes to the closest to NCAA selection times, and green, red and white caps to the sprint, distance, and freshman points leaders, respectively.

Simpson said he came up with the series to give his swimmers opportunities to race like they usually would in the fall semester.

“In our sport, it becomes incredibly challenging to train day in and day out without a competitive objective,” he said. “We needed to create a competitive environment prior to January 1st, and this was a creative way to do exactly that.”

Coming into the semester, Villanova, like most teams, anticipated waiting almost a year to race again. Being able to compete during the coronavirus era is something all swimmers are grateful and excited about. Villanova senior JJ Strain is relishing the opportunities his coaches have afforded him this semester.

“One of my favorite things about swimming is the competition, so I am glad we are going to be able to do some sort of competition (this semester),” he said.

Teammate and 2020 Big East Mile Champion, Brenna McLaughlin, echoed Strain’s sentiments.

“It’s exciting to know that there are some racing events on the horizon and that we will be able to get to perform and see how in shape we actually are,” said the sophomore.

The Villanova coaching staff shares in their swimmers’ excitement and believe getting a chance to race now is a perfect springboard into the delayed season. Assistant coach Conor Hassard thinks meets like the Caritas Cup are the ideal way to bring swimmers’ competitive edge back after a long racing layoff.

“It’s a very good chance just to practice racing,” he said. “Certainly training is great, but there is nothing that can replace actually getting up on the block and getting after it, getting back into the mindset of, alright, what do I need to do to beat the guys next to me?”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc in all aspects of the world, it has allowed sports to experiment with different competition formats like the Caritas Cup. With teams playing around with different ways to keep their swimmers active and motivated, it will be interesting to see how many of these types of meets become staples in future seasons.

6 comments

  1. avatar
    NovaFan

    Great article! Super excited to see some racing coming from Villanova!

  2. avatar
    Lori

    Fantastic Idea!!

  3. avatar
    Mary Bartolotta

    This all got thrown out recently, didn’t it?