RU returns experience for champs

<p>Head coach Phil Spiniello said Allyson Perrotti needs to lead by example.</p>

Head coach Phil Spiniello said Allyson Perrotti needs to lead by example.

With a larger and more experienced roster than previous years, the Rutgers swimming and diving team begins the AAC Championships today in Louisville, Ky., full of excitement.

The Scarlet Knights (9-4-1) enter the conference championships with a chip on their shoulders, fully tapered and brimming with confidence following two straight quad meet victories.

The team returns 14 athletes with at least one year of conference championship experience, along with some talented newcomers.

Following some school record-breaking performances at last year’s Big East championships, the Knights enter the meet with high aspirations.

“We know what to expect,” said head coach Phil Spiniello. “It’s going to be fast, it’s going to be good competition and everyone’s going to be at their best performance level and we need to be mentally and physically ready for that.”

While Rutgers earned victories against some quality competition throughout the regular season, the team learned the most from a couple defeats to top-25 opposition.

The Knights faced off against No. 20 Michigan and No. 24 Notre Dame on Jan. 11 coming off a 150-150 dual meet stalemate against future Big Ten rivals Illinois the day before.

Although the team failed to collect a win, the Knights showed they could hang with some of the top programs in the country, despite having little to no rest.

Sophomore swimmer Joanna Wu led the team with three top-10 finishes in the meet, highlighted by a first-place finish in the 200-yard backstroke.

With the thought of racing against some of the top swimmers in the country fresh in her mind, Wu believes the added year of experience has turned the nerves into excitement this time around.

“It’s not as intimidating as it was last year,” Wu said. “I’ve been to other championship meets … but conference doesn’t compare and now I know I have the confidence to swim at a much greater ability.”

The AAC championships will be the first and last time Rutgers’ competes in the conference with a Big Ten move on the horizon.

The Knights are new to the conference, but the competition bares some familiar faces.

Defending Big East champion Louisville joined the Knights in the AAC along with Connecticut and Cincinnati.

Rutgers finished above both the Huskies and Bearcats at last year’s Big East championships, but the No. 13 Cardinals look to be the heavy favorites to win a fourth straight conference championship.  

Southern Methodist and Houston will be the other two schools competing at this year’s championships for a total of six teams, compared to 10 from the Big East last season.

Wu, seniors Nicole Scott, Brittany Guinee and Mary Moser, along with junior Greta Leberfinger, are the five athletes who broke school records at last year’s championships.

With a year to improve, Spiniello has high expectations, particularly for the relays.

“Our team really focuses on the relays because it’s a team event and the four women that are chosen to be on those relays are representing everyone on the team, so I’m really looking forward to those,” Spiniello said.

Freshman Chantal Asselin highlights some of the newcomers to the championships for her strong performances to end the season.

In order to calm the nerves of the newer swimmers, Spiniello will be leaning on his senior captains in Scott and Allyson Perrotti to lead by example.

“It’s definitely intimidating going to your first conference meet,” Perrotti said. “I hope the freshmen look up to me and the other seniors. … We look at it as we are the best and we’re going to go in there and we’re going to win. And even if we don’t or if we do, it’s just about being in that mindset.”

For updates on the Rutgers swimming and diving team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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