April 18, 2019 | 60° F

The Longest Yard

Photo by Courtesy of Rutgers Athletic Communications |

Junior captain Erin Saunders captured the individual diving title at the Big East Championships last season leading her team to a fifth place overall finish.

In a season that is about five months long, success or failure for the Rutgers swimming and diving team can be judged by just four days.

Those four days begin today in Indianapolis, where the Scarlet Knights participate in the Big East Championships.

Last season, the Knights finished fifth in the championships on the back of now-senior Kasey Kesses and juniors Shayna Longacre and Erin Saunders, with each capturing individual titles.

But individual victories are not the key to success in this meet.

"That meet is more about depth, and if you can have three swimmers in the final eight in every event, you're probably going to win," head swimming and diving coach Chuck Warner said.

With that in mind, RU will rely heavily on contributions from their backstroke swimmers, most notably junior Cat Whetstone, who is the top seed in both the 100- and 200-yard backstroke races going into the championships.

Junior Denise Letendre, sophomore Kirsten Fontana and freshmen Megan Caylor and Brianne Lindblad have also won various backstroke events throughout the season, providing the Knights with depth in the stroke.

"Our deepest event is backstroke," Warner said. "With Catherine Whetstone swimming the backstroke and then you add in three or four or five other girls that are pretty good, we're very deep in backstroke. By far, I think, the best team in the conference."

Emphasis on consistency throughout the team does not mean Warner would not welcome individual victories for his swimmers.

Warner highlighted Saunders, the defending champion in one-meter diving, Kesses, last year's 100-yard butterfly winner and Longacre, the defending 100-yard breaststroke champion, as possibilities to repeat and hopes for top-seeded junior Kim Case to capture the 1,650-yard freestyle title.

"You would think, logically, all of those events Rutgers would have a reasonably good chance at winning," Warner said.

Rutgers' toughest opponents will be No. 23 Louisville and No. 25 Notre Dame, but neither team is on the same level as the competition RU faced last month while preparing for the Big East Championships with No. 6 Florida, No. 14 North Carolina and No. 15 Penn State.

Connecticut and Villanova were the Knights' only Big East opponents during the season in a tri-meet in which RU defeated both opponents.

Warner rates the Knights as the third best team in the conference based on their season performances but also expects improvement.

"Swimming is just such an unusual sport in that there's not a constant measure all season long of how you're going to perform at the end," Warner said. "So the variance of what happens during the season and what happens at the end of the season could be quite extreme … the Rutgers women are typically very good at the end of the season."

Before facing Florida, UNC and Penn State, Warner emphasized his goal of simply providing Rutgers' ranked opponents with the best competition they could. When asked if his goal approaching the Big East Championships was similarly "just to compete," the response was a quick and adamant, "No."

After an entire season of preparations for this one meet, Warner's team shares his sentiments.

"We want to try and win the Big East," Longacre said. "It's going to be a little tough against Notre Dame and Louisville, but we'll see what happens."

Steven Miller

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