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NORTH ANDOVER — With a new coach and a new facility, the Merrimack swimming program is gaining traction in the Northeast-10.

The team is still small in terms of overall numbers, but the talent is rising both in the newcomers and the advancement of the founding members, who have all bettered their times from earlier seasons.

Swimming isn’t the only upstart program at the college, but it is still unique. Almost half of Merrimack’s team commutes, which is a big difference between this program and almost every other on the campus.

(Ed. Note — You can also read this story in The Eagle Tribune)

“Our entire roster makes a real focus of keeping a team atmosphere,” head coach Erin Cammann said. “They have a team meal a few times each week and I know it’s been a focus because they’re not all together on campus all the it’s different but also really cool to see. Some our of older swimmers are actually our less-experienced swimmers, and it’s great to see their energy because they are really excited about their progress. For most of them this is the most training they’ve had.”

Cammann joined the program this past summer.

“It was very much be knowing someone who knew someone,” Cammann said. .”Kate Ambrosia, she’s a director at the YMCA in Andover and I have been affiliated with them for a number of years. I bumped into her in the parking lot and she mentioned that someone from Merrimack reached out to her about using the new facility for the team and also they needed a coach, and they asked if she knew anybody.”

Cammann has been a swimming coach locally for a number of years, including previously coaching North Andover High School and with elite swimmers at the Andover YMCA.

The move to Merrimack has been a terrific fit. Not only with a new coach, but the Warriors are also entering the use of a new facility, and will begin at the brand new Andover YMCA pool once that facility opens full-time. The team is currently training in Lawrence after using the pool at Greater Lawrence Technical High School during its first two seasons.

“It worked out well for the previous coach because he trained other teams out of Greater Lawrence,” Cammann said. “This is a good relationship for Merrimack with the Merrimack Valley YMCA and especially the new pool in Andover. It’s a lot closer for the athletes and we’ll even be practicing in the afternoon next semester instead of 5:30 or 6 o’clock in the morning, so I’m sure they’re looking forward to that as well.”

Merrimack’s program is still relatively young. Its seniors were founding members of the team and the talent pool has grown with the addition of the last two classes. The biggest class on the team is the sophomore class; the Warriors also have added two walk-on juniors.

“Our seniors have provided a lot of great leadership,” Cammann said. “Our sophomore class is motivated to see the program grow in their years and they’ve all been really enthusiastic. It feels like the program has some traction and we’ve had great support from the college. It’s a natural process to build up to a team. They can see it happening now, I think.”

The transition for Cammann has been relatively simple, she said.

“It’s a small team,” she said. “That makes it easier. What we’re doing in the water isn’t significantly different than other teams I have coached. The high-level Andover YMCA kids, they’re at about the same level, and a lot of those swimmers are going to Division 1 programs. The training program isn’t much of a curve. We’re building to where we need to be. The biggest thing I’ve noticed so far is their enthusiasm and ambition. It’s phenomenal.”

The season began for the Warriors in the middle of October and they’ve had two dual meets since. The freshman class, which consists of Maeve McGowan and Samantha Towle, have been top performers in the early season. The older swimmers have also set some personal records, along with providing the leadership that Cammann raved about.

McGowan had seven first-place finishes in her first three meets.

“We have talented freshmen,” said Cammann. “Right now they’re scoring the bulk of our points. They’re swimming well.”

The Warriors are in the midst of heavy training and as the season progresses the team will taper, meaning more rest, before getting set for championship meets, including the Northeast-10 Championships.

“The girls from last year’s team are closer to championship meet times now,” Cammann said. “In terms of this season, the trajectory is great. Everyone has steadily dropped their times. We gave them an abbreviated taper this week, about two or three days, heading into the weekend. That all give us an idea of how we’ll project for the NE-10 Championships in February. But across the board, we’re posting our best times, and some by two or three seconds.”

Merrimack has four locals on the roster as well, including sophomore Julia Collins (North Reading, Austin Prep), junior Sydney Frenchs (Andover), sophomore Genesis Garcia (Lawrence, Lowell HS) and junior Coral Robinson (Methuen, Greater Lawrence Tech).

The team is now in heavy training before tapering later in the year. The taper is a chance to give muscles a rest and to recover before big meets, and it will also allow for faster times.

“Track is the same way,” said Cammann. “It’s about getting them ready for top speeds. Right now their yardage is high. We build their workouts and there are portions that I know we might not succeed, but we’re aiming to get close. Then in a few weeks we extend those goals. It’s keeping everyone motivated. Now in December, we’re doing things we couldn’t do in October. You have to push your limits.”

The Warriors are off until after the new year, when they race in a meet at Bentley against the Falcons and Pace on Jan. 9. The Warriors will then race in the NE-10 Championships from Feb. 4-7 in Worcester at WPI.

Mike McMahon is in his 13th year covering Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune and is the founder and managing editor of The Mack Report. Mike also serves on staff as a senior writer at College Hockey News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN

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