Cabrini women’s swimming team finished their season strong, placing third at the 2023 Atlantic East Conference Championship swim meet held at St. Mary’s College in Maryland.
The Cavaliers finished with 477 points on the weekend, which included three first place finishes, all from freshman swimmers. Georgia (Gia) Markakis, freshman nursing major, took home gold in the 200 freestyle while classmate Aurora (Rory) Schreiber won both the 500 and 1650 freestyle events.
While the freshmen stood at the podium, head coach Cindy Ikeler highlighted how the entire roster was primed for success in the days leading up to the meet.
“I was seriously impressed with every girl, top to bottom,” coach Ikeler said. “Our performances at AEC’s were really indicative for each person of the amount of dedication, commitment, and hard work that they put in. We saw success from every swimmer … pretty much everyone was putting down lifetime bests.”
From the individual events to the team relays, everybody brought their best swims down to Maryland. The meet served as the cherry on top of a long winter season.
“I think just seeing both the women and the men perform and peak at exactly the right time that we had trained them to do is always gratifying,” coach Ikeler said. “Seeing them surprised almost by how fast they could swim and watching it all come together was probably my favorite part of the meet.”
Being a freshman on the big stage
Making it to a championship meet as a freshman is impressive; winning it all is even better.
Markakis exemplified coach Ikeler’s comments about peaking at the right time. In the weeks leading up to the meet, all of the swimmers tapered their practice yardage. Tapering is where swimmers slowly drop their weekly swimming total to optimize their performance in big races.
At the end of this process, the coaches planned a “broken 200” for Markakis to do in practice. This drill is a way to project a swimmer’s meet timing. When Markakis finished her swim, she was surprised to see a personal best time of 2:03.
“That was something I never thought in my life I would do, especially in practice,” Markakis said.
“That time was three seconds faster than my previous best. So that number was in my head like, ‘Okay, you have to get this time at the meet.'”
That practice run was two days before the meet, and put Markakis in a good position heading into the preliminary swim. While her time in practice gave her confidence, walking into the pool on meet day she felt the nerves that come with swimming at the conference Championships.
“With swimming, it’s tough because you only have those two minutes to perform,” Markakis said. “You don’t get an entire game or an entire season, you get these two minutes that you have been working six months for to show up.”
To say that Markakis showed up would be an understatement.
Markakis goes for gold
In the 200 freestyle morning preliminary race, Markakis set the tone for the day by swimming a 2:05.28. This time was her best in the meet and gave her the top seed going into the A final.
Even after this success she was still nervous.
“I was still nervous because the girls weren’t far behind,” said Markakis. “I was still looking for that 2:03 and kept thinking to myself, ‘All right, you really need to step it up for finals.'”
After a long wait, finals finally came. As the top seed, Markakis got to choose the walkout song. “Fake I.D.” by Big & Rich blasted around the pool, and Markakis took the time to live in the moment.
“The atmosphere when I stepped out from behind the curtain as everyone is walking out, it was something I had never experienced in my life,” Markakis said.
The swimmers took their blocks and the buzzer sounded. Eight 25-yard laps would decide the conference champion.
In the home stretch, Markakis went stroke for stroke with Immaculata University junior Colleen Blakelock.
Markakis recalled, “On our last flip for the seventh lap, [Blakelock] flipped before me, and I saw her, thinking to myself, ‘There’s no way I’m losing … I’ve worked too hard and she’s right there.'”
Kicking it into high gear, Markakis popped out of the water to the roars of the crowd.
“I didn’t even look at the scoreboard,” Markakis said. “I looked at my parents and my team who were going crazy. Then I turned to look at the scoreboard and saw first next to my lane.”
Markakis won the race with a final time of 2:03.24, .01 seconds faster than Blakelock.
“As soon as I saw that, I almost started crying in the pool,” Markakis said. “It was probably the best, most euphoric moment of my life.”
A bright future
With the season officially finished, coach Ikeler reflected on the group she had during the 2022-23 campaign.
“Swimming’s a weird sport, because you can kind of see on paper before your start where you might fall,” Ikeler said. “Through all that, they still carried themselves in the way of a champion, and that was really impressive to me.”
Through the 6 a.m. practices and the long bus rides, Ikeler and her team made the Cabrini community proud all season long. “To see that grit stick with them throughout the season, especially being a female coach, it was great to see the females carry themselves that way,” Ikeler said.
With only two seniors graduating, the returning classes look to keep building on their successes.