Women's Swimming wins Conference USA
Before its first conference win, many people thought second place would be the best the Rice women's swimming team could ever do without a diving team. However, the team has now proved them wrong twice in the past three years. On Saturday Feb. 23, the Owls won the Conference USA Tournament at the University of Houston with 739 points, defeating both rival University of Houston (694.5 points) and returning champion Southern Methodist University (664.5).
Without a diving team, Rice had to gain enough points in each swimming event to offset the points other teams earned in the diving events. This was especially difficult with the three high-scoring divers on the UH team and the talented relay teams of SMU's. However, Head Coach Seth Huston, who recently earned C-USA Swimming Coach of the Year for the third time in the past four seasons, has been able to lead a team that knows how to make up for its shortcomings.
"We make up for [not having a diving team] by being the deepest team and most diverse team when it comes to entering events," Huston said. "We cannot afford to have a swimming weakness since we do not have diving."
With the highest number of top-eight finishes, 18 top-three finishes and almost every swimmer taking part in more than one event, the Owls did not show weakness. Not only did they prove their depth, but nine Rice records and two C-USA records they also broke.
"We are a team where everyone plays an important role in the outcome of the meet," junior captain Michelle Gean said. "All of the swimmers on our team are very versatile and excel in many different strokes and events."
Gean, who earned a top-three spot in five events, swam the backstroke for Rice's 200-yard medley victory. Other top finishers included junior Quincy Christian, who set the C-USA record for the 400-yard medley with a time of 4:16.45, and senior Kylee Talwar, who broke the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke school records. Juniors Karina Wlostowska and Lilly Marrow, sophomores Erin Flanigan (first place in the $1,650 freestyle) and Marissa Konicke, and freshman Shelbi Ragsdale also greatly contributed to the team's winning score.
The team capped the first day of the tournament sitting in first place. Despite several big finishes in the first two days of the tournament, Rice went into day three with a half--point deficit to UH. However, the final events put Rice well above its C-USA competitors.
"We knew we had a few aces up our sleeve for the final day, and if we were close, we felt we had the best final day events of any other team," Huston said. "So being within .5 of the lead going into Saturday gave us a lot of confidence."
While Rice's victory was anything but a single-swimmer showcase, it was sophomore Casey Clark who led the team in points with two first-place finishes. Clark broke the C-USA 200 butterfly record with a time of 1:57.35, as well as contributing to six of the nine new Rice records. In addition, Clark received notice on Wednesday that she qualified for the NCAA Championship in the 100 and 200 butterfly and the 200 free. She will be representing Rice on March 23 in Indianapolis, Ind.
Clark believes her personal success and the team's success this year have been a result of raising their workouts to a new level and having such strong team chemistry.
"We were more competitive in workouts while being supportive of each other," Clark said. "We were all very motivated, and each had personal goals we wanted to achieve in combination with our team goals."
With a large number of returning swimmers and another conference win to their name, the Owls are hopeful for the 2014 season. They will, however, have to adjust to an entirely new conference. C-USA will be making several membership changes next year, making the women's swimming team's future difficult to predict. Still, Clark is excited that the team is going into the next season with such a reassuring victory.
"I would say that the only weakness we had [this year] was confidence, but next year, after winning a conference championship, it will not be hard to walk into all of our meets confidently," Clark said.
With a C-USA championship victory up its sleeve, Rice has proven once again that it does not need a diving team to compete. In fact, it is the Rice women's swimming team that will be the force worth reckoning during the 2014 C-USA season.
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