Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Women's, men's swimmers close stellar season

Here's my latest article for The Collegiate Times.

The H2Okies completed its season with a trip to the NCAA Championship meets over the past two weeks.

The women traveled to Indiana to compete from March 18-20, while the men traveled to Ohio to finish their competition this past weekend.

The women came in 24th place with 26 overall points.

“When you’re in the top 25, we like to think that puts us as an elite program,” women’s head coach Ned Skinner said.

Sophomore Erika Hajnal concluded her dominant season with a 30th place finish in the 1650 freestyle with a time of 16:25:00. Hajnal also swam the 400 individual medley, finishing eighth and earning All-American honors.

Skinner believes Hajnal’s contributions to the team have been a blessing.

“Erika Hajnal is a coach’s dream,” Skinner said. “She’s incredibly talented and fast. She scores a lot of points ... and is a lot of fun to work with. When she puts her Virginia Tech stuff on, she’s really there to represent our school.”

Junior Lauren Ritter also competed in the 1650 free, finishing in 35th place with a time of 16:34.29.

While Ritter swam her personal best in the event, she stressed that the ACC championship was more important because it’s a team event, rather then an individual one like the NCAA’s.

“It’s hard to go a best time only a month after conference meet, which is obviously the biggest focus for the team,” Ritter said.

Freshman Katarina Filova competed in the 100 freestyle and finished in 39th place with a time of 49.80.

“I wanted to do better but I’m happy with the way I finished. I was just a little pissed off that I missed the finals by one-tenth of a second.”

Even though Filova may have been a little disappointed with her swim, the time was good enough to set a new school record.

Filova also swam in the 200-meter freestyle, finishing 16th overall.

Hajnal, Ritter and Filova also teamed up with senior Kelly deMarrais in the 800-meter freestyle relay during the championships. The quartet finished tenth, the highest in program history, and earned an honorable mention All-American accolade.

Going into the last turn of the event, the girls were tied with four other teams. That’s where Ritter swam the fastest she ever had, almost a second faster then her best time according to Skinner.

“She could have faded and ended up 15th,” Skinner said. “Instead, she persevered and pushed through and ended up tenth.”

The girls have a method of getting pumped before the race that is rather unorthodox to say the least.

“Every time before a relay we try to get hyper and cheer each other on,” Filova said. “Kelly and I usually slap each other in the face before the race to get hyper. It actually helps a lot.”

Ritter shared more light into their pre-swim ritual.

“We like to do a team scream before the relay to get pumped up,” Ritter said. “It’s fun because we’re the only ones from our team there so right before we get in a huddle and were like, ‘All right scream on three,’ and we just screamed as loud as we could and then everyone just started staring at us.”

“It’s good to see that all four of us were having fun,” Filova said. “The most important thing is to have fun with everything.”

The race earned the women 14 points toward their team total of 26 points.

All of the team’s representatives except for Hajnal experienced their first NCAA championship meet.

On the men’s side, the team sent one swimmer, sophomore Charlie Higgins, and two divers, senior Mikey McDonald and freshman Logan Shinholser to represent the team.

Higgins, McDonald and Shinholser had to wait an extra day for their events. The start of the men’s championships was delayed by one day after multiple members of different teams contracted the norovirus on the flight into Ohio.

“Texas, Stanford and Arizona had the same flight in out of Dallas,” Higgins said.

“I guess someone on their flight had the norovirus; 18 swimmers started out with it. They thought it was just airborne illness that wasn’t really contagious. On Wednesday, we had open pool time to practice and then two coaches and four other swimmers got sick,” he said. “The swimmers ended up going to the hospital to help their recovery time and they weren’t allowed to swim until they got better.”

Skinner believed he and his fellow coaches were more affected than the competitors themselves.

“It probably hurt the coaches more,” Skinner said. “You had the team geared up, ready to go and then they said ‘wait.’ We just woke up on Thursday and did Wednesday all over again.”

“The NCAA decided that the norovirus was too risky for the student athletes so we had to just deal with it,” he said.

When the competition finally got underway, Higgins broke his own school record in the 200-meter backstroke with a time of 1:43.72 during the preliminary round of competition on Friday. Higgins set the previous record in 2009.

“I was definitely happy with that swim after I didn’t do so well at ACC’s,” Higgins said.

Higgins also finished 25th in the 100-meter backstroke.

McDonald and Shinholser finished 24th and 25th, respectively, in the diving events. McDonald ended with 267.60 points while Shinholser completed competition with 245.05 points.

McDonald also finished 18th while Shinholser finished 33rd in the one-meter platform event on Friday.

None of the men made it to the final round of competition. Still, head coach Ned Skinner was still impressed.

“We were disappointed we didn’t score points but were real proud of the way they performed,” Skinner said.

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