Big Ten serves as motivation for Rutgers' new season

<p>Senior Greta Leberfinger broke Rutgers’ 200m breaststroke record last year.</p>

Senior Greta Leberfinger broke Rutgers’ 200m breaststroke record last year.

When asked about what impact joining the Big Ten conference would have on the Rutgers swimming and diving team, fifth-year head coach Phil Spiniello kept it short.

“Pressure is a privilege,” he said. 

As the Scarlet Knights make the transition to the Big Ten, Spiniello knows the pressure will be on and they have to rise to the occasion with more eyes on them.

Rutgers is coming off a season where it finished in third place in the AAC while breaking nine school records. Spiniello was awarded the AAC Coach of the Year award for the Knights’ breakout season. 

Now Rutgers enters the Big Ten ready to conquer a new challenge.

“As a coach, I’m really excited about what the Big Ten brings for our program,” Spiniello said. “We are looking forward to February for the Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championship Meet. Those four days in February are where our season is really focused around, and the level of competition in the Big Ten is one of the premiere swimming and diving conferences in the country. We’ve been training for that since we finished with the AAC Championships last year.” 

As the competition level rises, it brings excitement around the program to see what the team can do.

“I’m really excited to enter the new conference,” said senior Brogan Lee. “Competition is going to be a lot more intense, and I’m really excited to see how we can do as a team and how I can do individually.”

The Knights return 14 swimmers and divers this season from last season, so the experience of being a successful team is still there. Spiniello is looking to his four seniors to step up and provide leadership for the underclassmen.

“I want to teach them how to go into meets, as people don’t see us in the competition,” said senior Greta Leberfinger. “I want to teach them to go in there with confidence and show them we are better than they think we are.”

Leberfinger broke the record last season for the 200m breaststroke and is now one of the team’s captains.

For Rutgers, the schedule is heavy on home meets. It has eight home meets this season compared to four away meets. In most cases, knowing your own territory is a big help when it comes to race time, the Knights say.

“We practice here two times a day, six days a week,” Leberfinger said. “We know the ins and outs. We know which lanes we like best. We know all the logistics of the pool. We work well in our pool knowing it is our territory.”

The Knights have set some goals for themselves this season as they look to put their program on the map.

“Our goal this year is to finish as high as we possibly can at the Big Ten Championship meet and put as many women as we can at the NCAA Championships for swimming and diving and break school records along the way,” Spiniello said.

Last year, one of the breakout stars on this team was junior Joanna Wu. Wu participated in the 2014 NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships and holds the school records for the 100m and 200m backstroke.

This weekend the Knights use an invitational at the RU Aquatic Center as a preseason meet to see where the team is at, as well as gauge the progress each of the swimmers and divers has made through the offseason. 

Rutgers officially start its season Oct. 31 in a meet against Wagner.

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

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