July 18, 2019 | 74° F

Senior duo paces squad in improved conference

Shayna Longacre was in the running for the 200-yard breaststroke Saturday when her goggles came off mid-swim. The senior persevered through the malfunction to finish 21st, but it could have been better.

And so it went for the Rutgers swimming team at this weekend's Big East Swimming Championships. The Scarlet Knights racked up 303 points to finish fifth, but they headed to Pittsburgh expecting more.

"Our girls gave a good effort, but they were just a little bit off their best," said head coach Chuck Warner. "We felt we could have done a little bit better."

Notre Dame edged Louisville 773.5 to 718 to claim an unprecedented 14th consecutive conference crown, while West Virginia and Pitt rounded out the top four.

Longacre and fifth-year senior co-captain Cat Whetstone paced RU. Along with freshmen Brittney Kuras and Jessica Simunek, the former conference champions combined to post an NCAA "B" cut time in the 400-yard medley relay.

Individually, Longacre nailed down another "B" cut time with a third place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke, touching the wall in 1:03.05.

Whetstone achieved the runner-up spot in the 100-yard backstroke and added another "B" cut-

time in the 200-yard backstroke.

"Cat should make NCAAs," said Warner of her chances to compete on the national level for the third time. "She's dealt with a lot of challenges physically and done a great job with it. She swam the 100 [backstroke] in the leadoff leg of the medley relay [and] was a little out of gas when it came to the individual race. She's got a chance to go a little bit faster and probably score in the meet."

RU's chance to improve on last year's fourth-place showing took a considerable hit on Wednesday. The Knights ended the day in a tie for sixth — not where they thought they would stand coming off a strong regular season and a good taper in the month-long layoff leading up to Big East.

"Our main events are the stroke events and the first day is always been our hardest day," said Whetstone of the early struggles. "It would have been great to get more points on that day but we definitely turned around fast on the second day and had some really, really great swims. It's good that the first day didn't bring us down mentally. We were still able to keep going the second day and improve our position."

But the hole was too deep for RU to contend with a talent-laden West Virginia team that put it all together at the right time. Three months after soundly defeating the Mountaineers to open the conference dual-meet season, the Knights lagged more than 200 points behind WVU.

"They improved dramatically," Whetstone said. "Either they were really worn down [in November] or they just had a phenomenal taper leading up to Big East. They swam really, really fast — out of their minds."

The steady improvement of the conference as a whole stood out to Longacre and the Knights' seven other seniors, even though the realization of the end of their college swimming careers has yet to fully register.

"[The] Big East has improved so much over the last four years," Longacre said. "Times that would have gotten you top-eight a couple of years ago might not even get you top-16 now. It hasn't sunk in yet. I was a little disappointed but we fought and we competed and that's all you can ask for."

Kevin O'Rourke

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