Over the course of four days, Fordham Swimming and Diving competed at the Atlantic 10 Championships in Geneva, Ohio for its last meet of the season. The team entered competition after months of training and a series of strong performances in recent meets. All of this boded well for Fordham in the conference meet, where they would face some of the best competition of the year. As projected, the women performed well, coming in fifth out of nine teams, while the men finished last out of eight teams. However, neither team was without strong individual swimmers, as senior Steve Sholdra and junior Megan Polaha led the Rams to multiple school and conference records.
The meet started on Wednesday, Feb. 17, with the 200-yd medley, 800-yd freestyle and 1-m dive events. The best performance of the day came from the women’s 800-yd freestyle team, which took fourth overall and featured Polaha, fellow junior Kalena Laurent, senior Megan Gray and sophomore Erin McBride. On Thursday, Sholdra led the men’s team with a third place, school-record finish in the 500-meter freestyle with a time of 4:26.27, besting his own record. No other male swimmer could crack the top 20 in the 200-yd individual medley or 50-yd freestyle, with sophomore Chris Viera and freshman Jack Madigan finishing 23rd and 31st in those races, respectively. The women’s team finished the day with two medal-winning performances from Polaha and sophomore diver Wendy Espina-Esquivel. Polaha earned a school record and met the NCAA ‘B’ cut time in the 200-yd IM with a time of 2:00.85, good for the gold. Espina-Esquivel took silver in the 1-m dive, becoming just the second Fordham diver to earn All-Conference.
On Friday, the women’s team earned even more accolades with a number of athletes taking home medals. Polaha continued her incredible performance in the meet with a second-place finish in the 400-yd medley, besting the school record and recording an NCAA ‘B’ cut time. Senior Shannon Lulley stood out in the 100-yd butterfly, where she took home the gold, set a pool and school record and also earned a ‘B’ cut time. Lulley, however, was not done. Later in the night, she joined up with her sister, senior Chandler Lulley, as well as Polaha and junior Morgan Fairclough for a third place finish in the 400-yd-medley relay. The biggest event of the night for the men was the 400-yd medley event, where Sholdra defended his 2015 title by finishing first in school-record time, also earning a NCAA ‘B’ cut time in the process. Sholdra broke his old record by nearly a second.
Competition came to a close with a number of events on Saturday. Polaha capped the night with a win in the 200-yd butterfly, where she set yet another school record, and the Atlantic 10 record,as well as recording an NCAA ‘B’ cut time. Chandler Lulley earned her first individual A-10 medal with a third place finish in the 100-yd freestyle and a school record time of 50.24 seconds. Steve Sholdra, capping his Fordham indoor swimming career, did not leave Ohio quietly. He won the 200 butterfly event in a school and A-10 record time of 1:47.10. The time was also an NCAA “B” cut time. Junior Miguel Mattox was another top men’s swimmer; he took 12th overall in the 200-yd backstroke.
Overall, Sholdra, Shannon Lulley, Polaha and Espina-Esquivel all earned All-Conference Honors, with nine school records, two A-10 records and one pool record broken. Top swimmers like Sholdra and Polaha stood out, and emphasized the importance of having supportive teammates at the competition to help them along. “This was definitely the best meet of my life,” said Sholdra. “It was an honor to represent Fordham on the podium for my three events at the A-10 Conference Champs. Our team performed well, and it was amazing to have such great support on the sidelines from our teammates as they cheered us on during every finals event.”
For most seniors, it was the last time representing Fordham in the pool. Feelings were particularly strong on the women’s side, who have seven seniors getting ready to graduate. Still, having Polaha return for another year as anchor for the team keeps hope for a strong 2016-2017 season.
“The A-10 conference just keeps getting more and more competitive every year,” said Laurent. “If anything, we have left this season motivated to make a more powerful team impact next year.”
The loss of Sholdra will particularly sting on the men’s side, which is one of the youngest teams in the Conference and in need of a leader. It will not be Sholdra’s last time donning a Fordham cap, however. A noted long-distance swimmer back home in Washington, he will represent Fordham this summer in open-water competition as well. “I have USA Swimming Open Water Nationals in Florida coming up in April,” said Sholdra. “Fordham will be taking me to that event, so it will be a great chance to put my Fordham cap and suit back on for one more meet.” As one of the top swimmers in Fordham history, Sholdra wanted to savor every moment. “I couldn’t have asked for a better last conference championship,” he said. “I’m so thankful to have teammates who were standing behind my lane cheering for every race. Fordham Swimming has been an amazing experience.”