Ashland University's men's and women's swimming and diving teams finished their regular season on Jan. 25.
Since then, the Eagles have dedicated all of their energy towards the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships, taking place in Cleveland, Ohio, Wednesday-Saturday (Feb. 20-23). The Eagles will arrive in Cleveland having done all the work they can to be ready for the conference championships.
"Most teams are not going to have any meets during the taper," said Ashland's head swimming and diving coach Ron Allen. "That's all we're doing is concentrating on little tiny tweaks and slowly dropping our yardage and intensity down as we do everything we can to do the fine-tuning to be prepared."
Ashland will co-host the GLIAC Championships in Cleveland, along with Wayne State. Being so close to home for the Eagles will provide some advantages when each individual's competition day rolls around.
"It's huge being so close," said Allen. "There's no long bus trip...so it's almost like we're at home. A lot of the kids on the team have swam there before as well, so it's almost home-field advantage to some degree," said Allen.
Ashland expects a lot out of its distance crew, which has been a very reliable source of success all season long.
"I think the team knows that our distance crew has been exceptional this year," said Allen. "We have some very high-talent people in there right now. Even though we did not do an early shave and taper in November and December like all the other GLIAC teams did, we're still ranked up pretty high with our distance kids.
"That bodes very well for how we're going to finish out."
Freshman Franci Aleksi has been leading that charge for the distance swimmers all year long, and he'll look to continue that trend at the GLIAC Championships. Aleksi won both events he participated in at John Carroll on Jan. 25. In the men's 1,000-yard freestyle, he took the top spot with a 9:40.45 finish. He was five seconds ahead of the second-place finisher. Aleksi swept the distance events, winning the 500 free as well with a time of 4:46.10.
He hasn't lost a distance event since Dec. 1, winning his last 10 races.
"He's darn good," said Allen. "He gets outshined a little bit because those are kids are getting rested for their meets and he's not. He's going to be able to prove himself in just a few days."
Another standout among the distance swimmers is sophomore Tara Stevens. Stevens' recent wins have come at John Carroll in the 1,000 free with a 10:58.08 finish, a sweep of the 1,650 free (18:16.26) and 500 free (5:18.87) on Jan. 18, the 1,000 free (10:53.86) on Jan. 12, and another sweep of the 1,650 free in 18:14.09, and the 500 free in 5:18.16 on Jan. 11.
Another group to watch out for in Cleveland will be the sprinters.
Grady won four events in January individually, and one as a member of a relay team, as she's been consistently good for the Eagles. Goeke picked up three individual wins, and one as part of a relay in January before the Eagles' taper began. Keilholz won two individual events and two relays in January, performing well in the most recent competitions for Ashland.
Sophomore Madeline Cronin also has been strong in competition recently, and will look to be a factor at the GLIAC Championships. Cronin won all four one-meter and three-meter diving events in January, and has not lost a diving event since Dec. 8 vs. Cleveland State.