Tuesday, news broke that the University of Maryland Athletic Department would be recommending to the university's president to cut the men's and women's swimming programs, along with roughly one-third of the athletic department’s 27 sports.
On the eve of the early signing period for NCAA National Letters of Intent, three area high school swimmers — verbally committed to swim for the University of Maryland next year — were contacted by the school’s athletic department and told that Maryland would not be sending out letters to swimming recruits, and they should pursue offers from other institutions.
Natalya Ares (Churchill High School/First Team All-Met), Ellen Anderson (Gaithersburg High School/Second Team All-Met), and Morgan Whyte (St. John’s College High School/All-Met Honorable Mention) were expected to officially sign with Maryland this week. They were left stunned and looking for new teams instead.
Ellen Anderson had talked with an assistant athletic director at Maryland on Monday, who told her to expect her letter of intent to arrive via FedEx. The next day she was told she would not receive a letter and there might not be a program at Maryland at all.
“I was shocked. I didn't believe it at first,” said Ellen. “I was excited about Maryland. I felt like something special was going on there. Everyone was there to compete, to get the program back to where it had been.”
In the recent CSCAA poll, Maryland women ranked 19th in Division I. Maryland has won an ACC Women's Swimming Championship as recently as 2005.
When rumors began to circulate on Tuesday, Ellen's coach, Bill Shechtman of Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club, pulled Ellen from the dry land practice to break the news and tell her to start calling other programs who had made offers to her.
Bill said, “I told her she couldn't wait till spring, the money wouldn't be there then.”
Ellen immediately re
ached out to several schools. “They were very helpful. They wanted to help me find the right place for me,” said Ellen.
She ultimately decided on Northwestern University. She said she plans to sign there this week.
Morgan Whyte made her decision to attend Maryland nearly six weeks ago and had stopped looking at other programs. The former Curl-Burke swimmer had left her club swim team to focus on preparing herself for the academic rigors of college during her final year at St. John's. Now she is trying to figure out her future. Again.
“The unfortunate reality for these swimmers is that programs that may have been interested in them three months ago have filled up the spots on their teams,” said Riley Eaton, General Chair of Potomac Valley Swimming. “[College swimming recruitment] is a brutal process to go through. But once you've made your decision, you're able to breathe a sign of relief. Now these swimmers are looking for scholarship money that has already been given out. “
Top collegiate swimming programs often conclude their recruiting processes early in the year, signing most of their recruits during the early signing period.
Eaton added, “The PVS is disappointed in the removal of any opportunities for [Potomac Valley] swimmers and supports the efforts to help save the [Maryland] program.”
The University of Maryland is one of nine universities within the organization's domain and has three former PVS swimmers currently on its teams' rosters.
The Facebook group “SAVE UMD SWIMMING & DIVING” has topped 10,000 members in just a few days, and the Twitterverse has been abuzz with the hashtag #saveUMDswimming, including shout outs from Maryland-native Michael Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman, the head coach at North Baltimore Aquatic Club.
Maryland becomes the second ACC swim and dive program to be put on the chopping block in recent history. Last year, Clemson University announced it would be phasing swimming out over a two year period starting in 2010.
The reality remains that the university's athletic department has to make cuts to the budget, as the current deficit is expected to swell to $17.6 million over the next five years.
However, without substantial support in the form of outreach to the university's president and monetary donations.
The University of Maryland men's and women's swim teams face-off against UMBC on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 1:00pm, at the Eppley Recreation Center, College Park, Md.