Women’s Swimming Takes Fourth in NESCAC

By Fritz Parker

The women’s swimming and diving team competed in the NESCAC championship at Bowdoin over three days this weekend, Feb. 15-17, finishing fourth in a competitive field. The women were in third place for much of the weekend – trailing conference powers Williams and Amherst – but were overtaken by Tufts on the final day of competition to match their fourth-place finish from 2012.

“I was extremely proud with how we swam,” said head coach Bob Rueppel. “If you watched the meet, we stood out as the most unified team. Our athletes were up the whole meet. They were energetic.”

On the opening day of competition, Feb. 15, Jamie Hillas ’15 got the Panthers out to a fast start by defending her 50-yard breaststroke title from last season, finishing in a time of 29.82. Megan Griffin ’16 placed fifth in the 50-yard butterfly, while Colleen Harper ’14 finished fourth in the one-meter diving event and Andie Tibbetts ’13 took fifth in the 50-yard backstroke to put the Panthers in third heading into the second day. The 400-yard medley relay team of Tibbetts, Hillas, Courtney Haron ’15 and Maddy Berkman ’15 earned an NCAA “B” cut in 3:51.98, good for third place. Haron also made a “B” cut in the 500-yard freestyle, but finished last in the eight-person final, a fact indicative of the strength of the conference field this year.

“When everything shook down after this weekend, this was definitely the fastest conference in the country,” said Rueppel. “Throwing young kids into that situation, I just thought they handled it very, very well.”

The Panthers came into Saturday’s finals in third place, and were buoyed by the individual top-five finishes from Hillas in the 100-yard breaststroke and Haron in the 200-yard freestyle, both making “B” cuts. Hillas, who won that event at last year’s NESCACs, finished just 0.17 seconds behind the winner with a faster time than her conference-winning time from the year before. The 200-yard medley relay of Tibbetts, Hillas, Griffin and Haron also finished third and made an NCAA “B” cut.

“The biggest thing I was happy about was the number of kids that made it back to finals,” said Rueppel. “Saturday night we had 17 out of 21 swimmers competing. Last year it was six or seven.”

For much of day three, the Panthers held a narrow margin over fourth-place Tufts. In three-meter diving, Harper and Hannah King ’13 finished fifth and sixth, respectively.

As the meet came down to the final event, however, Tufts gained a lead over Middlebury by placing four swimmers in the final of the 200-yard butterfly. Though the Panther team of Cece Burkey ’15, Nora Daly ’13, Lydia Carpenter ’15 and Ann Carpenter ’15 defeated the Jumbos in the meet’s final event – the 400-yard freestyle relay – it was not enough, as the Panthers could not make up the gap.

“All four girls were just awesome,” said Rueppel. “You always want to be perfect, but when you look back at the whole situation, we took a nice big step.”

Amherst won the overall team title, marking the first time in 13 years that Williams has failed to win the women’s conference crown. The Panthers finished just 11 points from a podium finish, an improvement from last year when they were over 100 points out of third.

“It would have been nice to get third,” said Rueppel. “I’m not going to lie. Going into the last relay knowing we were 15 down and it was going to take a disqualification in order to get third, we still beat Tufts in both the A and the B relay. That just speaks volumes of what we wanted to get done.”

With eight NCAA provisionary cuts from the weekend, the Panthers will have to wait and see how many of their swimmers will compete in the national championship meet, held in late March in The Woodlands, Texas.

“It’s a process that we have to go through here because we’re building a program and it’s all going through these steps,” said Rueppel. “As a coach I have to step back, because we’re building that foundation.”

While the women were competing at Bowdoin, the men prepared for their own conference championship meet, held this weekend, Feb. 22-24, at Wesleyan.

The men finished seventh at the NESCAC meet a year ago, and will rely heavily on the return of Ian Mackay ’14 to get back into the conference mix. Mackay won both the 50-yard freestyle and 50-yard butterfly at the 2011 championship before missing last season with an injury.

“Having a guy like Mackay not only strengthens your relays, it makes the other guys stronger,” said Rueppel. “He makes everybody around him just a little bit better.”

Stephan Koenigsberger ’16 enters the meet as the conference’s fifth seed in the 50-yard breaststroke. The Panthers’ 200-yard freestyle relay, 400-yard freestyle relay and 200-yard medley relay are each seeded fifth going into the meet.

“We’ve got some pretty strong relays,” said Rueppel. “We would have good relays this year because of the new guys we’ve got in the program and some older guys swimming well, but putting Ian back in the mix puts us on the cusp of being great.”

Rueppel commented on the team’s underdog status heading into the meet.

“We’re not on anybody’s radar,” he said. “I think what we’re trying to do is relish that role. Nobody’s paying attention to us so we can just go about our business. I think we’re going to surprise some people.”

The meet kicks off on Friday, Feb. 22, and continues with trials in the mornings and finals in the afternoons through Sunday

“We have nothing to lose,” said Rueppel. “When you compete without limitations, without expectations, in that sense I think it allows you to perform instinctively. When you’re put in that position where you can just instinctively swim, it’s a great position to be in. That’s exactly where we are.”

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