Rutgers thrives in last fall meets
The Rutgers swimming and diving team thrived in its respective final fall tune-ups.
Senior Erin Saunders led the way in Thursday's Galbraith Diving Invite and sophomore Brianne Lindblad paced the Scarlet Knights' swimmers in Friday's 121-99 victory over Wagner.
"It was a good change of pace for people doing a lot of different things," head coach Chuck Warner said of the Wagner win. "We wanted to see if there was some relay possibilities, and Jacquie Ward continues to be one of the real team performance leaders … showing that perhaps she can be a relay person so we had some good things."
Lindblad captured three of the Knights' 12 first-place finishes and qualified for the Big East Championships in the process with her victory in the 200-yard individual medley. Lindblad also swam the third leg of the 200-yard medley relay team and edged senior captains Cat Whetstone and Denise Letendre in the 50-yard freestyle.
"The 200 [individual medley] was a very off-event for [Lindblad] but she did well at it," Warner said. "The 50 freestyle was probably her best this season and that's an event … that we really need her to shine in. … Despite the fact that it was just kind of low-key, she did very well with it."
After battling health issues, sophomore Michaela Nilsson competed for the first time this fall and made an immediate impact. Nilsson narrowly bested senior Shayna Longacre in the 100-yard backstroke and swam the third leg of the 200-yard freestyle relay team that touched the wall in 1:40.88 to pace the Knights.
"It was great having Michaela back," Longacre said. "She's definitely key to a lot of our relays and having her back for Big East is fantastic and she's just a very vital swimmer on our team."
RU's freshmen added on to an already-stellar opening semester. Freshman Melanie Gaffey got the Knights off on the right foot with a win in the 200-yard freestyle, and freshman Brittney Kuras swam the 100-yard breaststroke in 1:05.38 to finish first. Freshman Jessica Simunek placed first in the 500-yard freestyle and sophomore Megan Caylor finished a close second to Ward in the 100-yard freestyle.
Senior Jackie Klein also continued her success with a time of 2:08.87 to shave her seedtime and claim gold in the 200-yard backstroke.
"It's good seeing everybody swimming well," Longacre said. "It's good that no pressure's going on one swimmer. We have a lot of good swimmers, and it's just great to have a team like that where you can depend on many people instead of just a few."
The Knights' divers excelled against a group that included Big East rival Connecticut and Big Ten foe Penn State, as well as Army, Drexel and West Chester.
Saunders posted scores of 532 and 588.35 points to take top honors in both the one and three-meter dives. Junior Jen Betz finished second in the one-meter dive and third in the three-meter dive, while freshman Katie Kearney placed eighth in each event.
The Knights have a month of training ahead of them before returning to competition Jan. 9 at Maryland.