Knights vie for crown in conference
Rutgers head swimming and diving coach Phil Spiniello could not ask for a better position for his team today as it begins the swimming portion of the Big East Championships.
Sophomore Nicole Scott placed in the top 10 in both 1- and 3-meter dives. The divers returned last weekend with a third-place finish — what the Scarlet Knights needed to improve on their seventh-place finish a year ago in the championships.
“The divers’ finish of third, the girls are really excited about,” Spiniello said. “That just fired up the whole team from what a great job they did.”
The Knights spent more than a week in the practice pool before the swimmers arrived Tuesday in Pittsburgh. The championships begin at 6 p.m. and feature both the 800-yard freestyle relay and 200-yard medley relay.
Rutgers will participate in a total of five relay events during the course of the four-day championships.
“We’re strong in our medley relays,” Spiniello said. “We’re going to catch some people off guard. Our goal as a team is to move up a few spots [in those events].”
The Knights will mostly earn No. 6 seeds in the relay events, and they want to improve their standing as the championships progress, Spiniello said.
One swimmer Spiniello look to for the accomplishment is senior Trisha Averill. The veteran was the Knights’ strongest competitor all season and the only member of the team to provisionally qualify for March’s NCAA Championships.
Averill’s strongest event this season was the breaststroke, in which the senior took down the school record in the 200 yard. She earned a high seed in the 100-yard breaststroke and has opportunities all week in the event, Spiniello said.
“She’s been training well all year and is a hard worker,” he said. “Going into this weekend, I’m excited to see her hard work come into fruition.”
The Knights also have senior Jacquelyn Ward at their disposal. The co-captain serves as the team’s best chance in the freestyle events. She consistently placed first in the 50-, 100- and 200-freestyle events during the season.
Averill and Ward, along with fellow seniors Brianne Lindblad and Michelle Berman, are the sparks Spiniello needs for the team to succeed. With the possible exception of Averill, they see their last races of the season in Trees Pool.
“The seniors are ready to go,” Spiniello said. “They want to leave with a bang. All my seniors are ready to leave their mark on the program and help us move up.”
Moving up remains feasible for the Knights. Last season’s seventh-place finish served as a lynchpin for the team as it entered the 2011-12 campaign. It went from 2-4 last year to a 9-2 mark at this season’s end.
But the Knights still race in one of the most competitive conferences in the country. The No. 24-ranked Louisville Cardinals return as Big East champions. Their 2011 win broke Notre Dame’s 14-year title reign in the league.
Rutgers finished 4-0 against Big East teams this season, but its victories against Connecticut, Georgetown, Seton Hall and Villanova only provide a glimpse of what the rest of the league showcases.
“Mentally, we have to stay in the meet,” Spiniello said. “The placing of this meet will not be determined until the last race is over, so we have to keep fighting like we have all year. But we’re ready to go physically.”
Spiniello said at the beginning of the year the team would be ready to compete when it arrived in the Steel City. The next four days will demonstrate where the Knights stand against the rest of the Big East field.