New staff rejuvenates junior's career
Jacquie Ward is not one to sugarcoat the truth. The junior swimmer will be the first one to tell you that after a miserable freshman year at Indiana and a disappointing sophomore year at Rutgers, swimming was just not one of her top priorities.
But that all changed this season when the Rutgers swimming and diving team welcomed new head coach Phil Spiniello and assistant coach Lisa Pursley.
"I have grown to love the sport of swimming again and I owe this to [Spiniello and Pursley]," Ward said. "Their unrelenting dedication and passion brought my heart back into the sport."
The Scarlet Knights could not be happier about Ward's recommitment to swimming, as she led the team all season in and out of the pool. Named Big East Swimmer of the Week on Dec. 8, Ward's impact from the team's first exhibition meet to the Big East Championships went without question.
"Jacquie is a huge contributor to the program in many ways," Spiniello said. "Her work ethic is admirable and this season she has just begun to scratch the surface of her potential."
That potential was evident as Ward was one of three Rutgers swimmers to qualify for an NCAA "B" cut.
Making a "B" cut means that Ward is eligible to earn an invitation to the NCAA Championships in March, even though she admits the chances of receiving an invitation are slim.
"It would be an incredible experience," Ward said. "This has been my goal since high school and to be able to compete among the best of the best would truly mean a lot to me. It is my first ‘B' cut ever, and I just want to get faster and be invited to go next year."
She qualified by posting a time of 4:26.92 in the 400-yard individual medley last weekend at the Big East Championships. Ward's time was good for fourth in the event while the Knights took seventh overall at the meet.
The strong performance also qualified Ward for summer nationals in California.
"My favorite race of the season was for sure my 400 [individual medley] at Big East," Ward said. "I was able to hang out in the front with fastest girls for a while and to me, this means that with some more training I'll be able to post up a great time."
Ward is also a part of the Knights' 800-yard freestyle relay team that dropped 29 seconds off its seeded time. The squad, also consisting of sophomore Taylor Zafir and freshmen Mary Moser and Chelsea Rolin, finished the race in seventh with a time of 7:27.85.
Despite the seventh-place finish, the Knights are optimistic about their future and Ward is at the forefront of that optimism.
"We know we're capable of some great things," Ward said. "We showed the other teams that we can hang with them. They know we're coming."
Ward is unquestionably a leader for the Knights as a junior on a team with no seniors. She holds faith for herself and her teammates going into the future.
"Individually, I want to win at Big East and be invited to the NCAAs," Ward said. "For the team, I want to be third or better at Big East next year and undefeated in dual meets."