The Rice University swim team could hardly consider winter break a “break,” as it competed in two meets despite the time off from classes. The Owls claimed the title in the University of the Incarnate Word Invitational just prior to Christmas, then fell to No. 29 Florida Gulf Coast University in a dual meet on Jan. 3. 

Rice traveled to San Antonio looking to defend their title after winning the UIW Invitational during the 2014-15 season. Facing off against the University of Houston, the University of North Texas and Incarnate Word, Rice began the meet by winning two events on the first day of the three-day competition. Sophomore Kaitlyn Swinney starred in the meet, setting a new career best time (4:52.60) to win the 500-yard freestyle and lead a one-two-three Rice finish in the event. She later joined freshman Marie-Claire Schillinger, sophomore Kiley Beall and sophomore Jaecey Parham in the Owls’ first-place medley relay team to win the Owls’ second event of the day. Despite Swinney’s strong performances, Rice sat in second place following the first day of the meet, trailing North Texas 507.5 to 464.5. According to Head Coach Seth Huston, the Owls did not have their best day.

“We got out of the gate a little slow this morning,” Huston said. “I think everybody came into this meet a little flat, but we came back tonight and swam really well.”

On the second day of the invitational, Rice hit its stride. The Owls won six of the seven events of the day to take the lead in the meet. Schillinger recorded a career-best 1:02.73 to take first place in the 100-yard breaststroke. She also swam on two winning relay teams, helping the Owls win the 200-yard medley relay and the 800-yard freestyle relay. Swinney built on her strong performance from the previous day by leading a one-two Rice finish in the 400-yard individual medley. Junior Anniina Ala-Seppala earned a victory in the 200-yard freestyle, and Parham claimed the 100-yard backstroke to win the Owls’ sixth event of the day. By the end of the night, Rice led the meet with 1,194.5 points, followed by second-place Incarnate Word with 1,092. Coach Huston said he was happy with how the team performed, but his focus was on the third day of the meet. 

“The last day is always the toughest,” Huston said. “We have to take pride in being on and fast and ready to go.”

For the final day of the meet, Rice won all six events to secure their second straight title in the Incarnate Word Invitational. Freshman Hanna Huston recorded her first victory of the weekend in the mile with a time of 16:56.73, and senior Cora McKenzie won the 100-yard freestyle to lead a one-two finish with Parham. Huston said he was especially impressed by McKenzie’s swim. 

“It was really a come-from-behind swim from Cora McKenzie,” Huston said. “It was awesome to see her pull that off.”

Sophomore Kaitlin Benjamin took first in the 200-yard butterfly. Schillinger and Swinney continued to shine, winning the 100-yard breaststroke and 200-yard backstroke, respectively. For her strong performance in the invitational, Schillinger was honored with the Conference USA Swimmer of the Week award. The final victory of the weekend went to the Owls’ 400-yard freestyle relay team of Swinney, McKenzie, Schillinger and senior Shannon Foreman. Overall, Rice won the meet with 1,830.5 points, followed by Incarnate Word with 1,470, Houston with 1,075 and North Texas with 507.5. Huston said he was pleased with the result. 

“Today was an early Christmas present for Rice Owls swimming fans,” Huston said. “We had a really good day.”

Following the victory in the Incarnate Word Invitational, the Owls took a week off before reconvening in Tampa, FL for a training trip on Dec. 29. After a few days of preparation, Rice took on No. 29 Florida Gulf Coast in a dual meet in Fort Myers, FL. Sophomore Alicia Caldwell led the Owls with two first-place finishes. She won both the 100-yard and 200-yard freestyle events after swimming as part of Rice’s second-place medley relay team. Hanna Huston earned second place in the 500-yard freestyle and the 1,000-yard freestyle. Unfortunately for the Owls, Florida Gulf Coast won nine of the 11 events to win the meet 134-71. The loss brings Rice’s dual meet record to 3-4 on the season, but the Owls have also won two of the three invitational meets in which they competed. 

The swim season will continue throughout the winter with seven more dual meets before the Conference USA Championships in late February. Rice is in action again on Jan. 12 in a dual meet away against Incarnate Word. The meet is scheduled for 2 p.m. in San Antonio.