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Navy swimming, diving coaches unfazed by Patriot League Championship meet cancellation

By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: April 8, 2021

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Navy's swimming and diving coaches were not upset about Wednesday's announcement that the Patriot League Championship meet had been canceled.

Men's coach Bill Roberts and women's counterpart John Morrison took the news in stride, mostly because it came as no surprise. Also informing their perspective was the fact the NCAA Championships have already been held, so the natural order of the season has already been thrown out of balance.

In some ways, elimination of the Patriot League Championships, which were scheduled for April 21-24 at Bucknell, was a relief for Roberts and Morrison. That's because both coaches are focused on getting their athletes ready for the Star meet against archrival Army and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials.

"If you throw in a three-day championship meet, something is going to suffer," said Roberts, in his 18th season at the helm of Navy men's swimming and diving.

In lieu of a championship meet involving the men's and women's teams from all 10 schools, the Patriot League announced it would conduct "challenge" meets at four different sites. Navy at Army along with Lehigh at Lafayette will be dual meets. Meanwhile, American and Loyola Maryland will travel to Bucknell, while Colgate hosts Boston University and Holy Cross in the other two Patriot League Challenge meets.

Navy has dominated Army in swimming and diving with the women winning 31 straight meetings and the men having captured 29 consecutive matchups.

"That's one nice thing about having Army-Navy, once you put that carrot in front of the athletes it focuses them on that one goal," Morrison said.

Patriot League swimming and diving coaches participated in a series of virtual meetings every Friday for four straight weeks to discuss the organization of the championship meet. Differences in coronavirus protocols at various institutions along with the logistical challenges at Bucknell created numerous obstacles.

"As we got deeper into those calls, it became clear the COVID restrictions would make it difficult to put together the meet in a format that would please everyone," Roberts said.

Roberts praised the Bucknell athletic administration for putting considerable time and effort into its presentation on conducting the Patriot League Championships. Bucknell also worked with state and local government officials to receive approval for the meet.

As planned, swimmers would have been required to congregate in Sojka Pavilion, the basketball arena at Bucknell. When it came time to compete in their event, swimmers and divers would walk over to Kinney Natatorium and there would be a time limit for how long they could remain inside.

"I think it was something like two minutes to warm up, you race, then two minutes to warm down," Roberts said. "That is not conducive to fast swimming, not even close. We would have held a meet, but what sort of results would it produce?"

Morrison, in his 17th season at Navy, agreed the format was far from ideal and supported the decision to cancel the championship meet.

"It was somewhat of a disappointment, but we knew all the challenges we were facing," he said. "Everyone tried to make it happen, but the planets would not align. It just made sense not to go ahead with the meet."

Roberts said the Navy men have already qualified 14 athletes for the Olympic Trials, being held in June at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska. He believes six other midshipmen are close to making the cut.

Sydney Harrington, an All-American in the 100-meter butterfly, is the only Navy women's swimmer qualified for the Olympic Trials. Morrison believes six other Midshipmen are capable of doing so.

"We love the Patriot League Championships. It's our favorite meet," Roberts said. "However, logistically it was just going to be too difficult to excel at Army and also get swimmers ready for Omaha. Olympic Trials happen once every four years so that is important for our athletes."

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