Sometimes, programs that are without full scholarship loads have to be creative in their recruiting. The women’s team at Florida Gulf Coast has been the epitome of that, as they’ve been all over the map in the past few years in trying to find the swimmers who have taken the program to four conference titles in its first five seasons in existence.
In the latest class, head coach Neal Studd has swimmers from pretty much every situation you can imagine. He rode the wave by importing a Canadian. He brought in transfers from other Division I schools. He brought in Junior College transfers. He signed international swimmers living abroad. He signed international swimmers training in the US. He grabbed a few from close to home, and some from far away. He signed Sara Hamilton, a top-50 recruit hailing from Scotland, in the fall, who is truly an elite sprint freestyler having been 26.1 and 56.7 in long course.
But here’s the thing about the kids coming in – they all come from extremely high-level programs. Both domestically and internationally, these are swimmers who either are the best or in the least train with the best. That makes them important not just on their own merits, but on the ability to expand the recruiting network to some of the best programs in the state, country, and the world.
Quite simply, with this class FGCU goes from a deep team with a few stars to a deep team with a lot of potential stars that could legimitely compete with mid-major powers like SMU for a top-15 spot at NCAA’s in a few years.
The top of the pile, that currently stands at 10 (9 from this spring) is Julie Leth-Espensen out of Denmark, where she trains under the famed coach Paulus Wildeboer, father of Aschwin and Olaf. She’s a decent sprint freestyler, but her real specialty is the breaststrokes – where her long course bests are 1:12.14 and 2:33.90, respectively. But she’s sort of the epitome of what Studd has gone after out of Europe – swimmers who are good in long course, but are studs in short course (see: Emma Svensson, who was an NCAA qualifier as a freshman and a Mid-Major All-American last year).
Leth-Espensen has short course bests of 1:09.19 in the 100 breast and 2:28.81 in the 200, which convert to around a 1:01.8 and a 2:13.3 in yards. She’ll join senior-to-be Danielle Beaubrun to give the Eagles a great 1-2 relay option on the medleys. She’s also put up huge IM times, with short course bests of 2:13.8 in the 200 (converted to 1:59-mid in yards) and a 4:40.80 in the 400 (a 4:11 in yards). Those times put her in position to join Svensson at NCAA’s next season as a freshman.
Jennifer Morgan, a Canadian from the Olympian Swim Club, can fill a lot of roles for Florida Gulf Coast. First-and-foremost, she’s a very good freestyler who will have a big relay impact with long course bests of 27.3/58.5/2:05.8 (converted to 23/51/1:50 in yards). She’s really good enough to swim all of the freestyles from the 50 through the mile, though she’ll probably focus on middle-distance. But she’s also an outstanding backstroker, specifically in the 200 where she’s been a 2:11.1 in short-course meters (which converts to around a 1:57 in yards).
Samantha Rahael hails from the famed Bolles School program in nearby Florida, and is another breaststroker/IM’er. She’s been a 1:05 in the 100 and a 2:18 in the 200 (both in yards), but her best race might be the 200 IM with a 2:04.78 from the Florida High School State Championships her junior season, where she placed 3rd. With a bit more endurance, and a better closing freestyle leg, that swim could have easily been a 2:03.
One of the more interesting names is Megan Wolfe. Coming out of high school, she had big potential as a sprint freestyler with bests of 23.83 and 52.55. But she was a young graduate, and she went to Daytona State for a year of Juco where she took that scene by storm with a trio of top-5 finishes at NJCAA Nationals. She would have gotten a lot of interest, if it weren’t for a string of injuries derailing her career.
A huge increase of workload under Ryan Lochte’s dad Steve, who was then the coach at Daytona State, flared up a torn labrum in her right shoulder that she suffered in 6th grade. This then turned into problems with her other shoulder. She came back home to train with her father Marvin and had been taking classes at nearby FGCU, Studd has persuaded her to join the Eagles, now apparently healthy.
Lani Cabrera, who currently trains with another famous Florida club the Davie Nadadores, is the holder of 5 National Records in the Barbados. She’s probably the best swimmer to come out of that country since Florida’s superstar Bradley Ally. She hasn’t been in the states long enough to make a great conclusion from her yards bests (they’re not all that impressive), but her long course times in the distance freestyles are solid. She’s been from a 2:06 in the 200 free in long course up to a 9:00 in the 800.
She’s definitely a project, but she has big support from the Barbados. While she works to figure out what her true specialty will be, she’ll meanwhile take over as the anchor of the Eagles’ 800 free relay, which is easily her weakest. That 2:06 converts to about a 1:50.0, which would have been the best on the team last year.
Sarah Maraskine will transfer from Eastern Michigan with one year of eligibility left; she’s a 55 backstroker. Meghan McGuirk out of the Peddie school is a 1:52 200 freestyler and a 1:06 100 breaststroker. Kellie Roedig from the Central Bucks Swim Team has a 5:01 in the 500 free. Ellen Vann from Lakeview is another project-freestyler.
Here’s a full rundown of the class, locales, and specialties:
Julie Leth-Espensen (Denmark, National Training Center, Breast/IM)
Jennifer Morgan (Canada, Olympic Swim Club, freestyle)
Sara Hamilton (Scotland, Stonehaven, ELITE sprint freestyle)
Samantha Rahael (Florida/Trinidad, Bolles, Breast/IM)
Lani Cabrera (Florida/Barbados, Davie Nadadores, freestyle)
Sarah Maraskine (EMU Transfer, Midland Mich., backstroke)
Meghan McGuirk (New Jersey, Peddie School, freestyle)
Kellie Roedig (Pennsylvania, Central Bucks, freestyle)
Megan Wolfe (Florida, Daytona State transfer, freestyle)
Ellen Vann (Michigan, Lakeview, freestyle)