Starting college as a first-year student athlete, you always want to start off on the right foot.
That’s just what Cooper Knapp, a native of Glens Falls, New York, did when he arrived at New Paltz and began swimming for the Hawks in the 2016-17 season.
Knapp, a swimmer who competes in the butterfly, backstroke and individual medley events for New Paltz, ended his season with the honor of being named the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Men’s Swimming Rookie of the Year on Wednesday, March 29.
“To be named SUNYAC Rookie of the Year is an honor and the whole SUNYAC meet was a surprise for everyone, especially after the rough season we had,” Knapp said. “As the youngest of five children, all of whom played a sport in college, I was raised to be competitive and I had honestly been eyeing the Rookie of the Year title since the beginning. I am so happy that the hard work I put in and support from my coaches and teammates helped me to achieve my goal.”
Despite missing seven dual meets due to a campus-wide mumps outbreak, Knapp made the most of the shortened season by setting three program records, two conference records and was part of all three program-setting relay teams in the Hawks runner-up finish in the 2017 SUNYAC Swimming and Diving Championships.
“Being runner-up was still a great achievement after the season that we had,” Knapp said. “Now we have to shift our sights as a team to recruiting new swimmers that can contribute to the versatility of the team.
“It is going to be a tough uphill battle as we fight for first in the conference with Geneseo. Although it may not be anytime soon because we have no diving team, the team can still better themselves by going after personal records.”
In the first meet of the SUNYAC Championships on Thursday, Feb. 16, Knapp was part of a team including fourth-year Jeff Pietkiewicz and third-years Caleb Treadwell and Barrett Celecki in the 200 yard freestyle relay that shattered a program record set in 2016 with a time of 1:23.26.
Later that evening, Knapp, Treadwell, Pietkiewicz and fourth-year Vitaut Gurskiy clocked a time of 3:26.19 in the 400 yard medley relay, which broke a program record set in 2012.
In the opening leg of the 400 yard medley relay, Knapp set a conference record that was set by a swimmer from SUNY Oneonta in 2013, with a time of 49.85 in the 100 yard backstroke.
“The records I broke this year were the cherry on top of the cake,” Knapp said. “Being a part of the New Paltz swim team and watching as we overcame the odds to take back what little of a season we had left and come out second in the conference was incredible.”
“The relays are always my favorite as it is 100 percent dependency between each other and working all season with a certain group on a single event is extremely gratifying: whether we lose or win, we do it together.”
In the second day of the championship, Knapp accomplished an NCAA B-cut time of 50.37 in the 100 yard backstroke that is less than the record threshold of 50.54 and set another program record in the preliminaries of the 100 yard butterfly, touching the wall at 50.17, which beat teammate Caleb Treadwell’s record of 51.11 that he set in 2016.
That night, Knapp, Treadwell, Pietkiewicz and fourth-year Matt Alfultis set a program record by hitting a time of 1:33.04.
In the final leg of the Championships on Saturday, Feb. 18, Knapp achieved his second NCAA B-cut time of 1:51.48 in the 200 yard butterfly finals, shattering the previous record he set earlier that day to end a fantastic season.
“It was the best feeling going into the SUNYAC meet to have everyone think they would outperform us and coming out of nowhere to show the other teams we meant business,“ Knapp said. “It was the best swim season I have ever had.”