Knights push home streak to 11 straight
The Rutgers swimming and diving team entered Saturday's meet against West Virginia with history on the line. The Scarlet Knights had not lost a home conference meet in 10 years.
Make it 11.
Freshman Brittney Kuras and senior captains Cat Whetstone and Erin Saunders led the way in a convincing 158-125 victory over the Mountaineers. The Knights took most of the suspense away early for the second week in a row by capturing seven of the first nine events.
"This was a good step in that direction," said head coach Chuck Warner. "Our girls are learning more and more about how to take care of themselves, how to stay healthy, and that's just so important in a season that's six months long. The consistency of our team is pretty good."
RU won 11 of the 16 events in total, with freshman Melanie Gaffey setting the tone right away with a victory in the 50-yard freestyle. Redshirt freshman Taylor Zafir also registered her first career win in the 200-yard breaststroke, touching the wall in 2:22.16.
But it was the performance of Kuras that once again stood out among the underclassmen.
She swam the final leg of the 200-medley relay team that bested West Virginia by 1.04 seconds and paced the Mountaineers' Shaunna Purtell and Rachel Burnett to place first in the 100 and 200-yard freestyle.
"Brittney's a pretty special swimmer," Warner said. "She won a couple of races in events that we really needed her. She's extremely versatile and that really helps our team. We're able to have her swim in a lot of different places depending on what we need."
RU benefited from the absence of some of West Virginia's best swimmers; including three-time defending 100-yard freestyle champion Kayla Andrews, Warner said.
Nonetheless, Warner said the Knights have fought through their share of injuries. Junior Kirsten Fontana is out for the year after offseason knee surgery and sophomore Michaela Nilsson has yet to compete this year due to illness.
Improvement in longer events has been a focus for Warner's group and he was happy to see some growth in that area.
"We did a little bit better," Warner said. "You wouldn't really know it so much by the points on the board but Kim Case and Hailey Weniger, those are the two seniors that we are really counting on and they're getting healthier and training better."
Like Kuras, Whetstone swam as part of the 200-medley relay team and took home two individual wins in the 100 and 200-yard backstroke. RU's other seniors were on point as well.
Jackie Klein continued a fine senior campaign with a first place showing in the 200-yard butterfly, while Saunders took care of the diving equation once again, staking her claim to the top spot in the one and three meter dives. Two weeks after being named the Big East Swimmer-Diver of the Week, senior Shayna Longacre captured the 100-yard breaststroke title with a time of 1:05.60.