For the fourth straight year, Rice swimming finished second behind Florida International University at the Conference USA Championships. The Owls came away with three C-USA individual championships at this year’s conference championship meet in Atlanta and put up 781 points to finish second only to FIU, which amassed 1,031 points.
Without a diving team, Rice forfeits the ability to gain points in any diving events, undermining its overall score. Junior Marie-Claire Schillinger said that this situation is a major disadvantage.
“We are the better team [compared to FIU] on the swimming side of things,” Schillinger said. “We are at an unfair disadvantage since we don’t have a diving team. If diving was taken away from the total points, then we would have won conference this year and several years in the past.”
According to senior Kaitlyn Swinney, the Owls stayed determined and fought hard throughout the meet, even though they had an inherent disadvantage.
“I definitely think we had the most fight of any team at conference,” Swinney said. “We don’t have a diving team, so we lose a lot of points each day to the diving event but we still managed to not get discouraged about that. I think not having a diving team makes us have to work that much harder for what we get and builds our character as a team.”
While Swinney was not too happy with the final standings, she also said she was proud of the team’s performance.
“Sure, I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t bring home that championship title, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way because we all gave our best efforts and that’s all anyone can ask for,” Swinney said.
Though the Owls did not claim the conference title, they ended a season filled with positive results. The Owls won both their conference events this year and placed either first or second in every invitational in which they competed this year, including the conference championship.
According to Schillinger, the team’s performance at the conference meet capped a strong season overall.
“In my mind the season was a success because we worked hard, we swam fast, and most of all, had fun while doing it,” Schillinger said. “Everyone had performances they could be proud of throughout the year and [had] many more at conference. I think the seniors all really came in strong for us and made a big showing in the total point count.”
Several Owls had standout individual performances at the meet. Schillinger claimed her third-straight C-USA individual title in the 200-yard breaststroke, breaking her own Rice school record with a time of 2:10.42. Senior Alicia Caldwell also won the 500-yard freestyle, posting a time of 4:45.33.
Another record fell as Swinney broke her own school record with a 4:12.89 in the 400 IM to claim another C-USA individual championship. According to Swinney, her nerves settled after the meet began, and she was able to enjoy her final conference meet.
“I am very happy with my meet,” Swinney said. “I came into it being very anxious and worried about how I was going to swim, but once I got into the meet and had fun watching and being with my teammates, everything fell into place for me.”
Swinney contributed a team-high 53 points to Rice’s final score. According to Swinney, her final season has been a memorable one.
“This year has been the most meaningful of my four years on the swim team by far,” Swinney said. “On the last day of conference, we were all so emotional because we know we're going to miss being a part of this incredible team. I could not be happier with how hard we worked and how much everyone contributed from start to finish.”
This year, Rice will graduate seven seniors. Head coach Seth Huston said the team will have to work hard to replace them.
“Next year's team will need to have new leaders emerge and develop their own identity,” Huston said. “They will all have to step up to perform at the level we have become accustomed to achieving. With that said, I know we return a great group and have some incoming freshmen that will make big contributions.”
The Owls’ season may not be over, as they can still provisionally qualify for either next month’s NCAA championships in Columbus, Ohio or the CSCAA National Invitational meet in Annapolis, Maryland. Schillinger has already earned an invite to the NCAA Championships in both the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke events.