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Knights look to keep perfect season alive

<p>Senior Jacquelyn Ward leads the Scarlet Knights into their meet
at James Madison after winning a pair of individual races Jan. 15
against Bucknell. Rutgers faces Richmond following its JMU

Senior Jacquelyn Ward leads the Scarlet Knights into their meet at James Madison after winning a pair of individual races Jan. 15 against Bucknell. Rutgers faces Richmond following its JMU matchup.

With an undefeated season hanging in the balance, Rutgers head swimming and diving coach Phil Spiniello knows the next two meets against James Madison and Richmond will be the toughest stretch for his team.

“[This weekend] is a big challenge,” Spiniello said. “Both of these teams are strong competitors and are very well-coached teams. If we swim and dive just well against these teams, we are going to lose, so we’re going to have to be close to perfect.”

The Scarlet Knights begin their quest to sweep the weekend meets tomorrow, when they take on James Madison. The Dukes enter the meet with a 12-2 record and boast victories against Georgetown, American and Virginia Military Institute from Saturday’s meet held on their campus.

One of the main threats to the Knights unblemished record will be James Madison’s Nicole Jotso. The senior diver collected her third Colonial Athletic Association Diver of the Week honor after last weekend’s performance. She won the 1-meter dive and took second in the 3-meter event. Her award was the fifth such recognition for the Dukes’ divers.

The Knights have experience with their first opponent. They defeated the Dukes at the Big Al Invite at Princeton in December. But Spiniello knows facing them head-to-head presents a different challenge than when they faced them in an invitational format.

“We were fortunate enough to beat James Madison in Princeton, but we know they are going to be strong head-to-head,” Spiniello said.

The Knights face off with Richmond on Saturday to complete their Virginia trip. Richmond enters competition with losses to Villanova, Maryland and Pittsburgh at the Panthers’ quad meet.

The Spiders feature some impressive athletes, including sophomore Mali Kobelja. Kobelja took home four top-three finishes at Pitt’s invitational which earned the young swimmer her third Atlantic-10 Performer of the Week award.

Spiniello knows Richmond presents a roadblock for his program, which he calls the most successful team he ever coached.

“Richmond was the Atlantic-10 champion for women’s swimming and diving last year,” Spiniello said. “A good meet’s a good meet — [it] doesn’t matter who the competitor is.”

The Knights enter this weekend’s slate after taking down Bucknell, 155-83, last Sunday. Senior swimmer Jacquelyn Ward took home two individual victories in the 400-yard individual medley and the 200-yard butterfly, while sophomore Mary Moser also took gold twice in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events.

The divers look to capitalize from the momentum generated from their recent success. Sophomore Nicole Scott led the group by sweeping the 1- and 3-meter dive events against the Bison.

While James Madison and Richmond present two of the biggest challenges of the season, Spiniello believes his team worked hard this week in preparation for their trip to the Old Dominion state.

“They realize that this weekend is going to be a challenge, and I can see that they’re ready for it,” Spiniello said. “They’re embracing the challenge these two teams bring this weekend.”

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