July 16, 2019 | 67° F

Conference title at stake for RU

Photo by Jennifer Miguel-HelLman |

Freshman Brittney Kuras won the 200-yard medley in the Knights' last meet and is one of five freshman that perform consistently well.

 The Rutgers swimming team worked toward the Big East Championships for the better part of four months.

And that's not counting the group's rigorous preseason training.

All of that preparation comes together starting today, as the Scarlet Knights head to Pittsburgh with a shot at the conference title on the line. Four days will decide the outcome of countless hours of dedication, yet RU is approaching the meet with a simple mentality.

"There's not that much pressure on us," said senior breaststroker Shayna Longacre. "It's not like we won last year so we just want to improve on what we did last year, go out there, have fun, be loud and go fast."

The Knights will have to go fast if they are to dethrone Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish's streak of 13 consecutive conference crowns is the longest in any league-sponsored sport. No. 13 Louisville enters as a co-favorite, having defeated Notre Dame 154-146 in January in a hotly contested meet.

Taking down the Irish and the Cardinals is a daunting task, but RU head coach Chuck Warner feels good about his team — and speaks from experience. Warner guided the Knights to six runner-up finishes in twelve seasons.

"I feel like we're better prepared than we've been in many, many years to swim fast," Warner said. "We've done a good job of getting ready the last six weeks and I think our girls are going to go fast. If we do that, then as the days go by … specific team goals will start to materialize."

Longacre and fifth-year senior captain Cat Whetstone will be looked to as RU tries to improve on last season's fourth place finish. Both captured individual titles in the meet, with Whetstone posting the team's lone win a year ago, touching the wall in 53.11 seconds to take gold in the 100-yard backstroke.

Whetstone was a freshman when RU last took second in 2006, swimming the backstroke leg of the 200-yard medley relay team that broke the then-meet record. Relays will be crucial to the team's chances once again, since the point totals exceed those awarded in individual races.

"We've trained so hard this year," Whetstone said following the team's second-place showing at Swimming World Magazine's College Conference Carnival. "Every single girl has pushed themselves to a new limit and resting and working on speed is … really helpful and I think we're going to do really well at conferences."

Contributions from underclassmen keyed RU all season and the added depth is another reason the club is optimistic about their chances to better last season's standing.

Freshman Brittney Kuras comes off a 200-yard medley victory in the College Conference Carnival and classmates Melanie Gaffey, Jessica Simunek, Taylor Curado and redshirt freshman Taylor Zafir chipped in consistently as well.

The experience of competing in front of a packed house against No. 10 Minnesota should be beneficial in calming the freshmen's nerves, Warner said.

"It's a different environment for them but they can handle it fine and I think they will," he said. "Just trying to have a relaxed attitude — we're going to try to take that approach."

Kevin O'Rourke

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