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Rutgers seniors end decorated careers at NCAA Championships

Senior Vera Koprivova was 0.01 seconds away from becoming the Rutgers swimming and diving team’s first All-American since 2008 last Sunday at the NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas.

Koprivova also placed 38th in the country with her performance in the first round of the NCAA Championships, but fell one spot short of advancing to last Saturday’s finals round at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

While she was unable to advance to the NCAA Championships’ finals round, Koprivova capped off her four-year career on the Banks with the Scarlet Knights’ program best times in the 100 and 200-yard backstroke events.

 "It's hard to not feel like it was a failure, because she came so far and came so close to her goal,” said head coach Jon Maccoll. “But from a swimming standpoint, this is the best year this program has had in a decade. We are in the conversation. Hundredths of a second decided so much this season, from our opening relay at Big Tens, getting a fourth swimmer to nationals, then Vera's swim today.”

Senior Francesca Stoppa and freshman Terka Grusova joined Koprivova as the three swimmers to represent Rutgers in Texas, the most the team has sent to the championships in 12 years.

After capturing a bronze medal at the Big Ten Championships on Feb. 23, Stoppa placed 55th in the 100-yard backstroke, and 35th in the 200-yard backstroke last weekend. 

Stoppa became the program’s record holder in the 200-yard butterfly, attaining a 1:55.95 time at the 2018 Big Ten Championships. She previously wrote her name in the Knights’ history books at the conference tournament the previous season, this time for the 100-yard butterfly with a 53.16 time

Since arriving on the Banks during the 2016 spring semester, Stoppa has consistently been a podium finisher and has captured several event titles throughout her four years as a Knight.

This season, Stoppa broke the Rutgers Aquatics Center 200 fly pool record on Dec. 1 at the  Rutgers Frank Elm Invitational. A former Big Ten Swimmer of the Week in January, the Trento, Italy native earned three first-place finishes in the 100 fly, in her final year on the team.

But, the accolades don’t stop there for the 2016 Rutgers Freshman Student Athlete of the Year. By earning a bronze medal for her 1:55.99 time at this year’s Big Ten Championships in the 200-yard butterfly finals, Stoppa became the first Rutgers swimmer to make the podium in the event at the conference championships.

“Vera and Francesca are trailblazers for RU swimming and diving,” said athletic director Pat Hobbs. “They displayed grit and tenacity throughout their time here. They epitomize the spirit that defines our student athletes.”

Senior Rachel Byrne, who has competed in the NCAA Championships for the last three years, represented the team in the 1-meter dive, placing 46th with a 231.50 six-dive score. She finished the championships with a 205.95 score in the platform dive, good for fifth place.

This season marks the seventh consecutive year a Knight has been sent to the championships.

A Bedford, New Hampshire narrative, Byrne topped the podium with four first-place finishes this season in the 1-meter dive. She also came away with the 3-meter diving title at the Justin Jenning Colgate Invitational, back on Oct. 6.

Byrne, who was the New Hampshire State Diving Champion during her junior and senior years at Bedford High School, was named Academic All-Big Ten in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

With the departure of  five seniors — three swimmers and two divers — Maccoll and diving head coach Frederick Woodruff will look to next season where 10 junior swimmers and divers begin their last season at Rutgers. 

The future of the team is headlined by Grusova, who was just the program’s third freshman to book a ticket to the NCAA Championships since 2015. She placed 34th in the 100-yard backstroke.

In her first year with the Knights, the Czech Republic native has already etched her name in Rutgers history, setting a school pool record win in the 100-yard backstroke, earlier this season.

“Disappointment can be motivating and I honestly think the next year will be better, and the next even better,” Maccoll said. "But it still has that feeling of failure because you can't come up any shorter. It's hard, but we'll use it going forward anyway we can."

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

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