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Swimmers compete in NCAA championships

By Juan Saldaña     3/24/15 4:29pm

No Rice swimmers placed at the NCAA Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina this past weekend.

The meet featured the top women’s swimmers in the country. Senior Casey Clark, the lone individual swimmer for the Owls, competed in three individual events — the 100 butterfly, the 100 freestyle and the 50 freestyle. Clark, along with freshman Alicia Caldwell and seniors Marissa Konicke and Rachel Moody also competed in the 200 medley relay.

In preparation for the meet, Clark said their training was slightly adjusted to maximize their potential at the meet. Because Caldwell, Konicke and Moody were swimming only a short sprint in the meet, they could focus on their specific event.

“We dropped the yardage that we were swimming every day,” Clark said. “Because we were swimming shorter races, we didn’t need as much aerobic training and just needed more speed and power work. My teammates were only racing a 50[-yard] so they did more sprint work whereas I did longer sets and had to try to maintain my fitness a little bit more so.”

The Rice relay marked the first time in 14 years that Rice managed to qualify a relay to the meet. The relay qualified for the NCAAs with a record-setting performance at the Conference USA Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee last month. The group won the relay with a time of 1:38.11 but participated in a time-trial the next day to break their own record at 1:37.04 and enter the NCAA Championships as the 11th national seed.

Clark said Coach Seth Huston tried different combinations of the relay throughout the relay until settling on this foursome.

“Throughout the season we tried out several different combinations of four swimmers for the relay,” Clark said. “Because Alicia [Caldwell] came in at semester we had never actually swam this combination before Conference when we qualified.”

The 200 medley relay consists of a 50-yard leg of each individual stroke. Caldwell swam the backstroke, Moody the breaststroke, Clark the butterfly and Konicke the freestyle. The relay finally got their chance to compete at the national stage on Friday night. They clocked in at 1:40.32, which placed them at the bottom of the standings. The relay swam 3.28 seconds slower than their previous time at the conference championship, with each leg being slightly slower than their seed time.

In addition to the relay, Clark competed in three individual events. She began with the 50-yard freestyle on Thursday morning, where she finished 52nd in the nation with a time of 22.95, just shy of her personal best of 22.73. On Friday morning, almost immediately after the relay swim, she competed in her strongest and preferred event — the 100-yard butterfly. Seeded 15th, she finished 25th with a time of 52.17. Clark concluded her record-setting career as a Rice swimmer with a swim in the 100 freestyle, where she managed to finish under 50 seconds by placing 54th with a time of 49.61.

Clark, who has qualified for the Olympic Trials in 2016, finished her time at Rice with five individual records in addition to being part of all four Rice relay records. Despite qualifying for the Olympic Trials, Clark will not continue swimming competitively.

According to Clark, competing in her final events was a bittersweet moment.

“Swimming my final race was an extremely emotional experience for me,” Clark said. “I have been swimming competitively for 15 years. I feel sad that it’s all over but proud in all that my team and I have accomplished.”

The Owls did not achieve their goal of placing in the top 16 teams in the meet. The University of California, Berkeley dominated the meet and won with 513 points — 51 more than the runner-up University of Georgia. Missy Franklin, a four-time Olympic gold medalist who swam the final meet of her college career before deciding to turn pro on Monday, helped lead the Bears to the victory.

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