Owls seek first place finish against long-time rivals
In each of the past five years, Rice swimming has lost the Conference USA first place title to Florida International University. This week, they hope to break this streak at the conference championships, hosted in Atlanta.
In the teams’ dual meet this past October, Rice eked out a two-point victory. According to head coach Seth Huston, though the Owls are at an inherent disadvantage, they still have an opportunity to come away with a victory over the Panthers this week.
“We know we are capable of competing with [Florida International] top to bottom,” Huston said. “The one thing we don’t have any control over is diving … we don’t have diving and they do, so that’s a really big asset for them.”
Last year, Rice lost to FIU in the conference championships by 63 points. However, FIU scored 242 points from diving events alone, meaning Rice handily beat the Panthers in the swimming events. It’s a twofold problem: The first, of course, is that Rice has no diving team, so it’s impossible for the Owls to score points in any diving events. But the issue is exacerbated by FIU’s utter dominance atop the diving leaderboards. In last year’s conference meet, among the three diving events — the 1-meter, 3-meter and platform dives — the Panthers placed at least four divers in the top five for each event. In the platform dive, they swept the entire top five.
Outside of the total team score, at the C-USA Championships Rice will also have an opportunity to qualify individual swimmers to compete in the NCAA Championships. In the team’s last meet against the University of Houston, nicknamed the “First Chance Meet” as a preparation meet for conference championships, several Rice swimmers put together strong individual performances in the short course and long course. Sophomore Marta Cano-Minarro posted the fifth-fastest 200-yard butterfly in school history (1:59.17) for a first-place finish, accompanying junior Ellery Parish, sophomore Erin Vance, senior Sarah Nowaski and freshman Virginie Qian in winning at least one individual event on the day.
Overall, Huston said he is pleased with where the team is at this point in its preparation for the conference meet.
“[The swimmers] are really in a good place before we back off and have them rested and peaked,” Huston said last week.
For the seniors on the team, the C-USA championship meet will mark the last time they take the water against opponents they have consistently faced throughout their four years at Rice. Huston said he believes the seniors on the team are in a very good position for their last C-USA Championships.
“[The seniors] all are carrying themselves really confidently,” Huston said. “They look really good in the water right now.”
Some of Rice’s first-place finishes at the First Chance Meet against UH were also season bests. Parish and freshman Zoe Spitz, who took the top two finishes in the 200-yard backstroke, both set season records, and Vance and Qian added bests of their own in the 200-yard breaststroke and 400-yard individual medley, respectively. According to Huston, the meet against UH serves as a strong indicator of how the team has improved thus far and how the team can improve further before the meet this week.
“We use that meet as a measuring stick of what we want to do over the next 10 days to prepare,” Huston said. “If they were swimming faster at the First Chance Meet than they were back in November at the Phill Hansel [Invitational], that’s a really good sign.”
The C-USA Championships begin on Wednesday and will last through Saturday. The meet will be held at the Georgia Tech Swim Center in Atlanta, and the final three days of competition will be televised on C-USA TV.
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