Rutgers bids farewell to seniors
The Rutgers swimming and diving team has surpassed expectations, a testament to how the Scarlet Knights have remained a strong force in the Big Ten.
Senior Vera Koprivova has done her best not only to make this team what it is today, but also help change the program from the inside. While on the Banks, she has crushed many records. Her story started a few years ago, the moment she stepped on the Rutgers campus for the first time.
“Freshman year was definitely was the most difficult for me," she said. "A new language, new country, new environment, so it wasn’t only academically difficult for me, but also the naturalization of myself that had to be done."
While with the Knights, she has obtained memories along the way since her freshman year. She said one of her fondest memories from her four years at Rutgers was when the team had a banquet.
“We have so many memories, but one of my favorites is that we had a banquet at the swim house. Everybody brought food, and we all sat with each other, shared stories and danced, and it's memories like these that I will keep in mind," Koprivova said.
With these memories in mind, her perception of the program has changed over time.
She mentioned that since she is a senior, she waned to leave a good impression. In her final race of her career at the NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas, she fell a fingernail shy of becoming an All-American — 0.01 seconds to be exact.
"You want to finish your last race, and leave a good impression, have good memories, and it is essential to remember the finer details and finish the best that you can," Koprivova said. "We worked hard this year ... That award does not make me who I am. To me, I am All-American. I was 0.01 short, and that is so small in the end.”
Along with Koprivova leaving the team after this year, senior Francesca Stoppa also finished her career this season. Since arriving on the Banks in 2015, she has come a long way, responsibility-wise.
“Going into this season, I felt a different set of responsibilities in terms of leading this team and helping to develop the culture to help the team. It was different than I was used to previously," Stoppa said. "With a large freshman class, I felt that the seniors needed to help out and it was something that I was thinking about when starting the season."
A Trento, Italy native, Stoppa came into Rutgers from a vastly different swimming background from other Knights who were born in the United States.
"I used to feel like I was swimming for myself, as a job, and when I came here, it felt like a job," Stoppa said. "Through the years, I realized that I am a lot more than just here to swim and contribute to points for the Big Ten, but here for the team and coaches that are here for me and beyond the pool, and trust us all to help building this culture with the help of the coaches."
Aside from helping out future generations of swimmers and looking toward the future, Stoppa remembered the fun she had over the last four years. One of her favorite moments was a bonfire on the Pacific Coast in California, as part of a team trip. She also recalled how she improved her 100-meter butterfly times throughout this season.
"One of the greatest experiences that I have had, that will stay forever, was especially when I worked on the front end of my waist and improved a lot in the 100 butterfly," Stoppa said. "And when I pushed, it showed and when you need to perform in (what is) not your main event, it shows how good you are throughout the season."
Prior to Rutgers, Stoppa didn't know if she would have a future in swimming. She said she couldn't see herself doing anything other than swimming. The University made her realize that she had the skill sets needed to succeed in the world.
For head coach Jon Maccoll, without the seniors on his squad, it will be like losing family members. Even with their parting, Maccoll mentioned that even though they are leaving, his expectations do not change for the future of the sports program.
“My expectations have not changed from a performance standpoint because we don’t focus on the outcome," he said. "We focus on the process, the team culture.”
Maccoll expressed optimism toward the abilities of the incoming class of swimmers, but was still sad to part ways with the seniors.
"This freshman class coming is good, and that will bring pressure to do well right away. They should focus on that, but look on how to improve their talent and the races will come next," Maccoll said. "We love our seniors. They are our family. We don’t want to see anybody go."
With all these stories, it is easy to see that the swim team is not just an amusement, but a collection of talented individuals with stories to share and spread through their fantastic athletic abilities.
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