The UNC-Wilmington Swimming & Diving Teams managed to save themselves after a committee recommended that the Athletics Department cut the program, but they haven’t emerged entirely unscathed from the ordeal.
Two of their three best men’s sprinters, juniors-to-be CJ Fiala and Nick Lowe, will both transfer next season, with Fiala going to Virginia Tech, and Low headed to North Carolina.
At last year’s CAA Championships, Fiala took 3rd in the 50 free (19.98), tied for first in the 100 breaststroke (54.34), and took 9th in the 100 free (his 44.64 was the 4th-best overall finals time). Those were all best times (or in the case of the 50 just off of his best time).
The well-spoken Ciala, a broadcast journalism major, said that while he didn’t make his decision officially until after he learned that the program was saved, the uncertainty was a factor in his decision.
“After the whole situation where our program was about to get cut, I was in a ‘prepare for the worst, hope for the best’ mode,” Ciala said. “Therefore, I had to protect myself so I started looking at my options. When they saved the program, I was one foot in the door and one foot out. I did not think that they were going to save the program but I was really happy that they did.
“But, at the end of the day after doing a lot of research, thinking, evalutating and praying I decided what was best for myself and my family was to attend VT in the fall. I will really miss all my brothers and sisters on the team back in Wilmington. I love them all and have become a man under their guidance and support. I will forever cherish the friendships I have made there. Coach Allen will always be one of my closet friends, mentors and role models.”
“That being said, I am really excited about the opportunity to train under Coach Ned Skinner and to get to train alongside some of the best talent in the ACC. Getting to compete in the ACC is like a dream come true and I am really excited to get to work. I have big plans for next year and I plan to take that with me to Tech. I am really excited to continue creating my legacy at VT, especially getting the chance to swim with my brother (incoming freshman). I hope that we can become one of the best brother duos in college swimming. I am ready for the challenge and I am excited to help bring an ACC Title to Blacksburg.”
Fiala alluded to his younger brother, Brandon, ilar to C.J. is a sprint freestyle/breaststroke combination. Brandon as been 20.78 in the 50 free, 55.30 in the 100 breast, and 2:01.1 in the 200 breaststroke.
Both on their own are good pickups for the Hokies, but in combination they really shore up the weakest lineup spots for a Virginia Tech team that was 2nd at last year’s ACC Championships. The Virginia Tech men put only one swimmer into the top 11 of the 100 breaststroke at last year’s ACC Championships (CJ’s best time would’ve put him right at the top of the B Final), and with a little bit of improvement he could step right on to the Hokie 200 free relay that graduated two of four swimmers.
Lowe was 3rd at the CAA Championships in the 100 free in 44.32, 5th in the 50 free in 20.20, and won the conference title in the 100 fly in 47.36.
Lowe has been 20.0 in the 50 free and a 1:38 in the 200 free as well.
He should become an A-finalist in the 100 fly for the Tar Heels next year at the ACC Championships, and is within striking distance of an NCAA invitation. North Carolina had some very talented young freshman butterfliers last year (Sam Lewis and Ben Colley, both freshmen), but none made it into the A-Final. With Dominik Glavich hoping to return to form after an injury cost him last season, this group could be very deep and very good for North Carolina.
That is an event where the conference’s dominant team, Virginia, looks pretty thin for next season after graduating their only two scorers from ACC’s. North Carolina took 3rd at last year’s ACC Championship meet overall as a team, and though it’s a long climb too make up the 200+ point gap on the Cavaliers, this could be an opportunity to make a huge dent.