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Junior reflects on strong start to season for Rutgers

<p>Junior swimmer Rachel Stoddard has played a key part to her team’s early success. She had three first-place finishes at the Sonny Werblin Invitational.</p>

Junior swimmer Rachel Stoddard has played a key part to her team’s early success. She had three first-place finishes at the Sonny Werblin Invitational.

Having a strong start is one thing, but maintaining that fast pace is another.

The Rutgers swimming and diving team has put forth some admirable performances thus far in the 2015-16 season. On Oct. 23, the Scarlet Knights picked up their first dual victory of the season against Wagner at the Rutgers Aquatic Center. 

The Knights posted a 195 team total and outlasted the Seahawks, who scored 102 points. Rutgers earned 10 individual wins in the event.

On Nov. 6 and 7, the Knights hosted to Georgetown, Seton Hall and Villanova in a quad meet. Rutgers secured two victories in the two-part event, one over the Hoyas by a score of 156-97 and another on the Pirates, 274-79.

But the Knights suffered a defeat to the Wildcats, 198-153

Villanova swept the competition earning three victories. Rutgers hung with their former Big East foe, an encouraging sign for the swimmers moving forward.

“I think we did really well especially on the first day, we definitely brought our A-game,” said senior Joanna Wu. “And we gave Villanova a run for their money. The second day was a little bit tougher, a little bit harder. The other teams definitely stepped up their game after the first day. But overall, I think we did pretty well. I think we handled the competition pretty well as well.”

An enormous factor to the Knights' early season success is junior Rachel Stoddard.

The Hillsborough, New Jersey, native is directly linked with her team’s victories and high-place finishes thus far. Against Wagner, Stoddard had two first-place times and at the Sonny Werblin Invitational on Oct. 16 and 17, she earned three first-place finishes.

Entering the quad meet against Georgetown, Seton Hall and Villanova, Stoddard emphasized the importance of eating healthy and remaining focused in preparation for the competition.

“Well, obviously we have to make sure we’re all eating right," Stoddard said. “Making sure that we’re going hard in the pool and that we’re taking practice seriously and that we’re focusing on the things that we need to be focusing on.”

Individually, Stoddard wanted to focus on the little details and nuances of swimming heading into her team’s home quad meet.

Stoddard competes in two types of events for Rutgers — the breaststroke and the individual medley. Her favorite event is one of the breaststroke events.

“I would have to say (I like) the 100 breaststroke, just because I have a lot of confidence in it and its one of my best (events),” she said.

Stoddard began swimming at a young age.

“I started swimming competitively when I was about 7 and that’s because when I was taking swim lessons, I was too good for my group,” Stoddard said. “But I was too young to move up so someone suggested to my mom that I sign up for the swim team and I’ve been in it ever since.”

Stoddard was a four-year varsity swimmer at Hillsborough High School and was also a team captain during her time as a member of the Raiders. 

She was a first-team All-Skyland Conference swimmer, and was presented with the Paul Robeson Youth Achievement Award.

“(The) high school team taught me what a team feels like just because everyone on the team cheered for one another, supported one another and had a great mentality, they were all positive and I mean, college swimming is a lot more competitive so it really taught me to be there for my teammates for support and things like that,” Stoddard said.

The most influential person on her swimming career has been her traveling team's coach, Stoddard said.

“Just because he’s believed in me a lot and he would always challenge me and like give me really hard goals," she said. "He was tough on me but it made me a better athlete.”

Not being able to see the fruition of one’s goals and accomplishments until the end of the year is something that makes swimming a much more difficult sport compared to the rest.

“The amount of work you have to put in and how we won’t see your goals until the end of the year and the mentality you need to have," Stoddard said. “A lot of people think it’s just physical, swimming is very mental and the fact that people don’t really see it as a competitive sport … but it really is.”

Stoddard enjoyed the team atmosphere and the support she felt at Rutgers which led her to make the decision to attend the University.

“I chose Rutgers because of the atmosphere and how everyone supported one another,” Stoddard said. “I chose it because it was close to home and I got my family get to come watch me swim. I’m proud of all the opportunities I have at Rutgers as a student as well … I’m really proud to wear an 'R' on my cap especially when I go out and compete against other people. And like a lot of people underestimate us and when we go out there and we like start shocking people … but when we perform, they’re really surprised.”

At the conclusion of quad meet last weekend, head coach Petra Martin said she was excited to see Stoddard's progression after she performed well at the meet.

“She had a great meet," Martin said. “Again, she’s somebody that she’s still improving, still finding kind of the if you can call it perfect race. But again, you can see her see her dropping into the area where we really want her to be … That’s very exciting to see. Her head is on right, she’s doing the right things every day and you can see the difference when she’s racing so, I’m super excited for her.”

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

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