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Rutgers starts season with positive results

Last year, the Rutgers swimming and diving team enjoyed enormous success in its inaugural Big Ten season. The Scarlet Knights earned nine victories to just one defeat in dual meets and had two swimmers qualify for the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships.

The team also saw some triumphs at the Big Ten Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, picking up an 11th place finish. Several Knights posted new records in the books at the event for a combined six on the year.

But in the blink of an eye, confidence diminished.

Head coach Phil Spiniello resigned his position on March 25 this past spring. Now residing in North Carolina, Spinello led his team to numerous accolades during his tenure on the Banks from 2010-2015. In 2014, Rutgers captured third place at the American Athletic Conference Championships.

Spinello was later given the designation of Coach of the Year by the AAC. His team set nine school records in its first and only season as members of the American Athletic Conference. Spinello assisted in guiding one of his Knights to Honorable mention All-America status in 2014.

Rutgers was able to wheel in the coaching candidate at the top of its list in May. 

The University hired former Czech National Swim Team swimmer Petra Martin. Martin was previously at the helm of Bowling Green’s swimming and diving team from 2010-2015 and was named Mid-America Conference Coach of the year in the 2012-13 season.

Martin’s Knights worked diligently during the summer months and early fall to prepare for their sophomore season in the Big Ten conference.

“Training with my teammates, (senior) Morgan Pfaff and (sophomores) Emily Erwin and Larissa (Neilan) — they all push me in practice," said junior Rachel Stoddard. "Having positive energy, sleeping at night, eating right, everything, working out in the weight room — little steps.”

Rutgers kicked off the season at the Florida Gulf Coast Classic on Oct. 2-3 in Fort Meyers, Florida. Senior Joanna Wu earned first place in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 54.94. Stoddard secured second place in the 100-meter breaststroke event, finishing in 1:03.47.

The team of junior Meghan Kiely, Pfaff, Stoddard and Wu finished in the top-three in both the 200-meter and 400-meter medley relay. The swimmers had a time of 1:43.47 in the 200-meter relay and finished the 400-meter relay in 3:47.53. Wu also had an NCAA-qualifying time in the 200-meter backstroke at 1:58.71.

Next up, Rutgers hosted the Sonny Werblin Recreational Center Invitational on Oct.16-17 at the Rutgers Aquatics Center on Busch Campus. The Knights performed well at their first home meet of the season, picking up 10 individual victories.

Pfaff won in the 200-meter butterfly and the 400-meter medley with a 2:07.21 and a 4:29.53 respectively. Stoddard captured first place in the 100 and 200-meter breaststroke, finishing at 1:08.53 in the 100-meter and 2:25.38 in the 200-meter.

In the 100-meter and 200-meter backstrokes, Wu had first place finishes with times of 55.98 and 2:00.88. Freshman Cynthia Wu won the 100-meter butterfly with a 58.96 and the 100-meter freestyle with a 53.56. With a score of 306.52, sophomore Addison Walkowiak won the one-meter dive event.

“I think that a lot of them have been making the transitions from workouts to competition and trying to do new things, which is great,” Martin said. “I think sometimes it takes us a little bit longer to kind of embrace those changes though in workouts so that’s something that we need to keep working on — making sure that we keep those doors open and be open to changes and new things.”

Martin said that maintaining focus on the everyday routines is important.

“When it comes to racing, they’re ready to go, which is exciting,” she said. “They love to race and that’s important obviously — the will to win needs to be there, so I like that. Now we need to keep focusing on the everyday stuff and making sure that every day, every workout is our best workout.”

Last Friday, Rutgers hosted Wagner in a dual meet at the Rutgers Aquatics Center. The Knights defeated the Seahwaks by a score of 195-192 and secured their first dual meet victory of the year. Pfaff, Stoddard and Wu each earned two individual wins at the meet.

“Wagner — they have been stepping up their game a lot”, Wu said. “A lot of their best swimmers have definitely brought their A-game this meet. There’s been a lot of close touches, but no matter who we're against, even if it's Ohio State or Penn State, Wagner or whatever, we always gotta be at our best and on our edge. Especially with this meet, we had a little bit of a shortage of people. But the divers stepped up, they did great — we all stepped up and filled their spot.”

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

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