There were two major developments for the Buffaloes in the championship meet. The first was phenom Maggie Halloran capturing the AAC swimmer and freshman of the year awards after winning her two events — the one-mile swim and 500-yard individual medley.
“I thought it was pretty cool because in the 500, she was third going in,” head coach Kelly Chism-Essler said. “She came out and just blew everyone away and beat the meet record by five seconds. In the mile, she was just out there having fun and broke the meet record by 20 seconds while still being over 20 seconds off her personal best time.
“In the team, the girls went from second-to-last last year to third this year. I knew it was going to be a good meet, I just didn’t know how good it was going to be. I did not expect to have as many people get top eight as we did.”
When the coaches voted on who would be the swimmer of the year, it was a tie between Halloran and another freshman that also won two events in record fashion. It came down to drawing a name out of the hat and Halloran got it.
“I knew when I was swimming the mile that I could have gone faster, but it was just about winning and getting points for the team,” said Halloran.
The second development was Chism-Essler being named coach of the year in just her second year at the helm for Milligan.
“I was already crying knowing Maggie had gotten those awards,” Chism-Essler said. “When they announced that I had gotten the award over the public address, I couldn’t stand up. Maggie had to hold me up.”
The NAIA nationals begin this Thursday in Columbus, Georgia, and Halloran enters the meet just nine seconds off the top time in the one-mile swim and only two seconds off the 500 mark. She will also take a crack at the 100 backstroke, an event in which she qualified from just a relay split.
When asked about the possibility of winning a national championship, Halloran responded: “It would give me a lot of confidence, but I think it would be even bigger for the program. I think it would be a big boost to the rest of the team knowing that we have performers that can do well and succeed.”
Chism-Essler added: “It would give me a personal boost, too, knowing that the hard work has finally been paying off after a rough season. It was frustrating sometimes to see all of the kids work so hard and not see results, but if it does happen, that pulls in attention.”