Randy and Susan Naccarella can be spotted cheering in the stands of UB swimming and diving meets, wearing badges with pictures of their two daughters.
Mia Naccarella, with her hair dyed purple, stands to the side, quiet, until it’s her turn to race. Her sister, Toni Naccarella is dancing on the pool deck, talking to her teammates before their relay.
The Naccarella sisters have been competitively swimming together for the past 15 years. The Bulls’ second-place finish at the Mid-American Conference (MAC) swimming and diving championship last month marked their last meet together.
“My mom never learned to swim until she was an adult,” Toni Naccarella said. “So she really wanted us to learn when we were young. And then we just got into it and we kept climbing the ladder.”
The pair hold two school records together in the 200 medley relay and 800 freestyle relay. They won the MAC Tournament together in 2021, the first MAC title in program history.
The sisters don’t just compete in relays. Mia Naccarella focuses on backstroke, and Toni Naccarella focuses on sprint freestyle. Toni Naccarella became the first UB swimmer to attend the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament.
Toni Naccarella, 23, is a graduate student and came back for a fifth year at UB while Mia Naccarella, 20, is a junior. With the exception of a brief gap when Toni Naccarella started her college career, the sisters have spent their entire swimming careers together. Moving an hour away to UB was a perfect fit for Toni Naccarella, a Rochester native.
“After my trip [to UB], I just didn’t even think about going anywhere else,” Toni Naccarella said. “I just knew I wanted to go to UB.”
While Toni Naccarella knew Mia Naccarella might follow her to UB, they both said their mom spent “two months crying” after Toni Naccarella’s last high school meet with her sister. She was worried it would be her daughters’ last competition together.
Toni Naccarella ended her high school swimming career with a moment she’ll “never forget.” She won states in the 400 relay alongside her sister, a race that “wasn’t even close.” Mia Naccarella said that winning states is her favorite swimming memory with her sister.
Two years later, Mia Naccarella joined Toni Naccarella at UB.
“I think when she committed it was something really exciting for our whole family,” Toni Naccarella said. “I think my parents were really grateful that they could watch us compete together again.”
They started off strong together by winning the 2021 MAC Championship, Toni Naccarella’s favorite swimming memory. She swam in the 400 meter relay, the race that determined if UB was going to beat rival school Akron.
“Watching that last relay was crazy,” Mia Naccarella said. “We have a video, and everyone’s screaming and crying.”
Head coach Andy Bashor said, the sisters have “very different” personalities — Mia Naccarella is quiet, and Toni Naccarella is often the one dancing and talking — but they still lean on each other.
“Growing up, we kind of butted heads a lot, but we always had each other’s back,” Toni Naccarella said. “Now in college she’s one of the people that pushes me the most in practice and we are very competitive.”
Bashor, who coached the sisters their entire career at UB, said he knows Mia Naccarella will step it up and race hard. Agreeing, her sister said that Mia Naccarella might not be the most outgoing person on the team, but when it’s time for her to race, she doesn’t hold back.
“There was a time where she was sick for basically a whole week before a competition, and I really didn’t know what was going to happen going into a mid-season invite,” Bashor said. “And then she just pops off, best times, and [I] just kind of learned that she just loves to race. She steps up to this moment.”
With their last meet together behind them, Toni Naccarella is set to finish up her masters degree in public health next year. She is attending the NCAA Tournament for the second time in her UB career, preparing for the 50 and 100 freestyle races in Knoxville, Tennessee from March 15-18.
“I just want to enjoy my last two weeks on the team, training for NCAAs and getting ready to compete for the last time,” she said.
Mia Naccarella will continue swimming for UB and is currently deciding if she wants to take a fifth year. When she steps onto the pool deck in the fall, her sister will be in Buffalo — just in the stands instead of the water.
This year has been one of the hardest parts of Mia Naccarella’s swimming career, knowing her time competing alongside her sister was coming to an end.
“So what am I going to do next year?” Mia Naccarella said. “How am I supposed to swim another year?”
With Toni Nacarella's swimming career coming to an end, she remembers how swimming alongside her sister brought their family closer.
“I always think about how my parents are feeling, being able to watch us at the end of the season swimming,” Toni Nacarella said. “Just cheering for each other and being grateful to be there and do it together.”
Amy Maslin is a sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org