July 15, 2019 | 73° F

Rutgers takes solace in next season's returning performers

Notre Dame has a monopoly on the Big East Championship and the Rutgers swimming and diving team was determined to put an end to it.

That is what prompted head coach Chuck Warner to take a calculated risk this year – a risk that he admitted was wrong.

"I changed some of what we were going to do by working on getting fast at the beginning of the season, and then from there building endurance on top of that speed," Warner said. "And I just miscalculated how long it would take to recover from that big body of work."

The Scarlet Knights finished fourth in the Championships behind the Fighting Irish, who won their 13th consecutive title, Louisville and Pittsburgh.

The fourth-place finish was a product of tired swimmers, said Warner, who will return to his calculations with the hope of setting it right.

"I'm excited because I feel like I took a bit of a risk in terms of making a change," he said. "But I just felt like for us to have a better chance to be more competitive on the national and international level, we needed to do something better and different, so we did."

The result was a lot of tired athletes competing but it's something that is an easy fix, Warner said.

In addition to the experience gained by this year's experiment, the Knights will be returning a strong team.

Junior Cat Whetstone won the Big East Championship in the 100-yard backstroke while setting the meet record and will only look to improve next season.

Junior Shayna Longacre, a former Big East champion, was one of the Knights' most consistent swimmers this season, winning 10 individual races before mononucleosis slowed her down.

Longacre missed the Swim World Conference Carnival, where RU finished third behind No. 6 Florida and No. 14 North Carolina, and a meet with No. 15 Penn State.

A relapse of mononucleosis struck Longacre upon her return for the Championships, and she was unable to repeat as the 100-yard breaststroke champion.

Junior captain Erin Saunders will also return after she earned RU's only victory in the Conference Carnival in the one-meter diving event.

A week later against Penn State, the former Big East champion set the school record in the same event.

Rutgers will miss the departure of their senior class, which includes captain Linda Tate and another former Big East champion, Kasey Kesses.

Kesses started the season by dominating the 100-yard butterfly and 50-yard freestyle en route to being named Big East Swimming and Diving Athlete of the Week, but she was unable to repeat her success in the Championships.

The seniors contributed about 15 points in the Big East Championships — a number Warner hopes can be improved by the incoming freshmen class of three All-Americans and medical redshirt Taylor Zafir.

"They can take those 15 points and multiply it by hopefully four or six or eight or 10," Warner said.

It was a season in which the Knights came up short but much was learned.

"I just know we're a way better team than we performed this year," Warner said. "Notre Dame has always been way out there, and it took eight or nine years to catch up and in 2006 we almost did it. And then we lost the men and we lost some of our best women with them, and now we're back to climbing the ladder again."

Steven Miller

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