Freshman earns Big East qualifier in last chance
The goal all season for Rutgers head swimming and diving coach Phil Spiniello was to see as many of his athletes qualify for the Big East Championships as possible.
It may have been a stretch to think that all 22 members of the team would qualify, but the Scarlet Knights got one step closer to that goal at the RU Invitational thanks to freshman Kara Millaci.
"I was very excited to qualify," Millaci said. "I hope to go even faster at the Big East Championships in about two weeks."
In order to qualify for the Big East Championships, swimmers and divers must post times under a set qualifying time at any point throughout the season. Millaci was able to post her season-best times in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly at the Invitational — the last event of the regular season.
"It was huge because this was the last opportunity for her to qualify," Spiniello said. "[Millaci's] qualifying is a great sign for things to come in her future."
Millaci made the Big East cut by finishing the 100-yard butterfly in 59.69 and the 200-yard event with a time of 2:09.39.The entire team was noticeably excited for her when she qualified, including Spiniello, who let out the loudest cheer in the RU Aquatic Center.
"Each day my teammates and coaches cheer for me in sets and always help me push myself to the next level," Millaci said. "Seeing them at the end of the lane before my races last weekend really motivated me to swim fast so I would be down with them in Kentucky for Big East [Championships]."
Millaci is unique among the rest of the swimming and diving team for an unlikely reason: She is one of only six swimmers on the team from the Garden State.
Millaci hails from Whitehouse Station, N.J., and has been competing at the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center for more than 13 years with her club and high school teams.
But being close to home was not originally a selling point, as she very nearly headed north to compete in the Atlantic 10 Conference for Rhode Island.
"I was actually not considering Rutgers until about a month before I had to decide where I was going to go to school," Millaci said. "I thought it would be too close to home and I have been swimming at this pool all the time since I was about 5-years-old."
The Knights are glad she made the decision to come to Rutgers, as Millaci's vastly improved times at the RU Invitational led directly to the Knights being named the Most Improved Team of the Week by collegeswimming.com.
The Knights improved their fastest times by 100.5 percent according to the website, narrowly edging Tennessee, which improved 100.3 percent.
The Big East Championships begin late next week in Louisville, Ky. The diving competition kicks off Friday, Feb. 11 and lasts until Feb. 13. The swimming events begin on Wednesday, Feb. 16 and conclude on Saturday, Feb. 19.
The anticipation is building for Millaci and the rest of the Knights as the culmination of their season is rapidly approaching.
"[Coach Spiniello] has been talking about the Big East Championships almost every day since we started training in September," Millaci said. "Now that I have qualified, I hope to help the team out as much as I can and swim fast there."