Swimming: Recapping Vanderbilt’s fall season

Vanderbilt Swimming competed in three fall meets to kick off its 2020-21 season.

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Vanderbilt swimming competing at the 2019 SEC Championships. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Alex Venero and Bobby Kent

Vanderbilt swimming entered the pool for the first time in the 2020-21 season with meets against Kentucky, Tennessee and Miami across three different weekends. However, despite strong strokes by the Commodores, they ultimately fell 75-195, 60-202, 892-946, respectively. Team scores are the sum of points assigned to each swimmer’s place finish (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.)  in individual and relay events. Throughout all three meets,  Senior Tonner DeBeer, Freshman Eleanor Beers and Junior Lizzy Colwell excelled for the Commodores.

Last season, the Commodores swam to a 6-6 overall record, finishing the regular season on a four-meet winning streak but a last place finish in the SEC Championships. While every season presents its own unique set of challenges, the 2020-21 season has looked nothing like the others for Vanderbilt Swimming due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Head coach Jeremy Organ addressed the challenges brought upon by COVID-19 with regards to off season and in-season training, 

“There’ve been a lot of changes because of the protocols that have really influenced us about when we can practice and when we can’t practice,” Organ said. 

Back on campus, the team has had to adjust to a new routine, including training in specific groups and restricted facility access. 

“We’ve taken a lot of steps [with regards to protocol changes], such as roommates train in lanes together, which is something a lot different. And there’s a lot of little things, like no locker room, so you have to come in your suit and then leave in your suit, which isn’t the most comfortable or fun,” Organ said. 

Returning to the pool this season was even more impactful for the Commodores, many of whom did not have the opportunity to train regularly, if at all, over the summer due to pool facility closures and  COVID-19 restrictions. 

“A lot of the girls had a really different summer because they weren’t able to keep competing and keep training,” Organ said. “We were thankful just to get back into practice and that we did get some practice. A lot of schools aren’t competing and their seasons are on hold. So we’re happy for [being able to compete]”. 

The Commodores kicked off the new season with a meet against Kentucky on Oct. 16. Junior Tonner DeBeer recorded a top-three finish in a pair of individual events as well as in two relays and was the runner-up in the 100-yard backstroke. Freshman Eleanor Beers came in second in the 100 free and fifth in the 200 fly. 

For DeBeer, the first match wasn’t just an opportunity to shake the rust off but carried extra meaning as well. 

“That’s [Tonner’s] home state, so going home to Kentucky, maybe there’s a chip on the shoulder there to perform at a higher level, and she’s had a really good fall,” Organ said. 

He also praised Beers’ composure and ability to learn on the fly. 

“Eleanor being a freshman coming in, I thought she did a really good job racing in terms of sort of learning how to be a collegiate swimmer”.

While the scoreline was not in Vanderbilt’s favor, Organ was happy with the effort. 

“I was really impressed that they were able to step up because that’s a really good Kentucky team. It’s been a challenging  fall just because both teams—Tennessee and Kentucky—are really strong on the women’s side this year” 

Vanderbilt’s second meet against Tennessee on Oct. 30 yielded similar results for the team, especially DeBeer, who finished first in the 100-yard butterfly and second in the 200-yard backstroke. The team also showed consistency, finishing third in the 200 medley relay. Lastly, a trio of third place finishes by Gabriela Pierobon Mays, Lizzy Colwell and Alina Stout encouraged Organ heading into the latter half of the season.  

“And those handful of girls, actually everybody, [was] maybe not super happy with a lot of the results from a time standpoint, but I think from a competitive standpoint of getting and racing that’s gonna really help us come later in the season.” 

In its last meet of the fall season, Vanderbilt Swimming traveled to Miami to face the Hurricanes on Nov. 18-20. DeBeer placed second in the 200-yard backstroke and Beers placed in the top four in the 100-yard freestyle. Lizzy Colwell placed second in the 200-yard breaststroke. Lastly, the combination of DeBeer, Beers,  Pierobon Mays and Kaley Buchannan came in second in the 400-yard freestyle relay. 

“The [invitational] served its purpose of getting us a good three-day meet, preparing [us] for SECs and how to come back for six sessions and race. We really hit a good stride on day two and started to see some really good performances, and day three was maybe even a little bit better, which is pretty typical for us,” Organ said.

Vanderbilt Swimming will next face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Jan. 23 at home at the Centennial Sportsplex.