Rams take on Las Vegas Invite and Missouri Tiger Invitational

The Rams will split their efforts this weekend with two of their largest invitationals of the season. The swimmers will take on eight of the top teams from across the country at the Las Vegas Invite in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday-Saturday. Simultaneously CSU’s intimidating diving squad will battle its own top rivals at the Missouri Tiger Invitational in Columbia, Mo.

“I want to see the girls race and dive without any inhibitions,” Head Coach Christopher Woodard said. “I really have no expectations, other than the fact that we’re going to be well rested. It’s not a huge rest, but enough to get the job done. They know they’re going up against some very tough teams. We’ve already talked about it with the team. We’re not there to be intimidated. We’re not there for hero worship. We’re there to take advantage of the opportunity that’s in front of us.”

These invites are the most similar practice the Rams will get for the Mountain West Championships (Feb. 19-22). The team will face prelims in the mornings, hoping to qualify for the scored night swims. Leading into the weekend with a short taper, the team will be more rested than before any of its other meets this season. Historically, the mid-season invites pull out some of the Rams’ most exciting swims of the season, and in the past few years, have earned a few record-breaking performances.

“We tend to get most of our conference set times here at mid-season,” Woodard said. “It tends to be the fastest meet of the season outside of the conference championship.”

Coming off a thrilling victory against Northern Arizona on Nov. 9 (152-148), CSU should have considerable momentum from the win. Although the Rams have an even record (2-2) on the season so far, each meet has highlighted the team’s strengths in different areas.

“I think all three of our meets this year should give every person on the team some confidence,” Woodard said. “While not every single person hit at every single meet, I think we saw something good from each athlete during the fall.”

The weekend will allow the Rams to swim against BYU and NAU for the second time this season and face the intimidating strength of Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, UCSB, Cal (including Colorado native and Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin) and host UNLV.

Colorado State won the final two events on Nov. 9 to come from behind and beat Northern Arizona, 152-148, at Moby Pool. It was CSU’s closest win since 2001.

“It was a fantastic meet from start to finish,” Head Coach Christopher Woodard said. “They didn’t get down. If they went 1-2-3 they got really excited but they didn’t get cocky, and when NAU went 1-2-3 in the 500 Free they didn’t give up. That’s exactly what I want to see out of my team. They’re keeping their heads straight when they’re wining and not folding when they’re losing.”

Heading into the final two events, the Rams knew they had to win both events to take the meet. Shepard (2:07.09) stepped up to the 200 IM and cut down her season best by more than 2 seconds, beating out NAU’s Rachel Palmer by 3 seconds. In the same event, Alexandra Jacobs (2:11.24) came back from fifth to close the team’s gap even more with her third-place finish.

Trailing by five points entering the final event, CSU needed to take first, in addition to either second or third. The 400 Freestyle Relay cinched the Colorado State win, as the relay team of Roh, Polich, Teagan Griffith and Simpson edged out first with their fastest time of the season at 3:31.11, just milliseconds ahead of NAU.

“It was a whole team effort. There were honestly way too many heroes to talk about them all,” Woodard said. “Jess had a phenomenal meet. Across the board she was able to not only get out early, but come back strong in all her events. Tess showed veteran leadership across the board in all her events, including that last leg of the final relay. Jacobs, in the 200 IM, came back from fifth to third; that really put us in a position where we could put the meet away. “Hopefully this win will give them a shot in the arm,” Woodard said. “I think they saw at CMU that they could come out early in the season and swim well at altitude, but dual meet wins have been few and far between. Having this win against a very tough opponent coming down to the end, I think that gets them charged up and excited about racing. I expect Las Vegas is going to be a top-to-bottom great haul for us.”

Jessica Shepard, a native of Dripping Springs, Texas, competed in four events in a 152-148 come-from-behind win over Northern Arizona on Nov. 9, taking first place in all four. She earned 27 points for CSU with three individual wins, plus 11 points for a first-place finish in the 200-yard medley relay (1:45.90), which she helped CSU lead early with a strong opening leg (26.44).

The Rams were down by 10 points going into the final two events of the meet, and they knew they needed to take first place in both to have a shot at winning. Shepard stepped up to the challenge, winning the 200 IM (2:07.09) to put the Rams within five points. The 400 Freestyle Relay team then edged NAU by 19-hundredths of a second in the final event, in addition to taking third place, to win the meet in thrilling fashion.

In addition to the 200 IM and 200 Medley Relay, Shepard finished first in the 100 (56.87) and 200 Backstroke (2:04.88) events, with season-best times. The times also rank seventh and fifth, respectively, among Mountain West athletes this season.

The award is the second by a CSU athlete this season. Sophomore Ariana Milone was named the MW Women’s Diver of the Week on Oct. 23. Shepard is CSU’s first MW Women’s Swimmer of the Week since Jennifer Muniz, in 2009.

The Colorado State Rams opened the 2013-14 swimming & diving season with one of the youngest teams ever to jump in the water. Fifteen newcomers put on the Green and Gold for the first time at the Intermountain Shootout on Oct. 11, matching evenly in numbers with seven sophomores, five juniors and three seniors.

“I think it’s a testament to how hard we worked, as well as how fortunate we were that we were able to land that many very qualified and talented freshmen,” Woodard said prior to the start of the season. “That being said, I think we’re looking more at a four-year process with them. I think we addressed many of the weaknesses in our events, but primarily we are looking at diamonds in the rough, and I think we do have some future diamonds.”

During the season opener, the large freshmen class made an immediate impact, as several freshmen took first place or top spots in events. The underclassmen have continued their consistency, holding 12 of the team’s season-top times. Sophomores Jessica Shepard and Ariana Milone have both earned MW swimmer/diver of the week recognition for their record-breaking performances.

“I feel confident in their abilities to develop,” Woodard said. “I was maybe a little surprised at how fast some people swam in their very first collegiate meet. That’s just all the more encouraging to me that their progress is going to happen at a little faster pace, and maybe with a better end result than we originally anticipated.”

Although the pool is filled with many young faces, CSU returns intimidating strength on the boards. The Rams opened the season with the same vigor they did in 2012-13 – with then-freshman Ariana Milone winning both events and breaking a pool record at DU en route to being named the conference’s diver of the week.

CSU swept the 1- and 3-meter events with huge margins. Taking first, sophomore Paige Greely had her lifetime best performance in the 3-meter diving event. Already holding the position as the fifth-highest scorer in Rams history, she bettered her record from 285.45 to 287.55.

In the second meet of the season, the diving team was again on fire, and remains unbeaten in both springboard events. CSU swept the placements on the 1-meter boards, with Milone leading the effort (288.08), followed by Greely (268.73) and Mary Kate Hardy (267.60). In the 3-meter diving event, Milone (299.25) and Greely (283.80) again claimed first and second, respectively. Milone’s score was a career best, and ranks fourth in CSU history.

“We should almost be called ‘CSU Diving & Swimming.’ Our diving team is phenomenal,” Woodard said. “Obviously Ariana is at the top of that list right now, but across the board all of them scored at conference. Now we have three newcomers, so we’re very excited to see what they can do.”

In 2012-13, three divers qualified for NCAA Zones, the most by the Rams since 2005 and tied for the second-most in the Mountain West. Already this season, three athletes have qualified (Greely, Milone and Mary Kate Hardy).

The Rams will look to their upperclassmen to lead the new faces on how CSU approaches its dual meets and the proper principles of training. Fortunately, CSU returns several talented athletes, namely seniors Yana Garvey and Madeline Mastrup, junior Tess Simpson, and sophomore Jessica Shepard. All four rank among the fastest athletes in CSU history in their respective events.

“We have very capable scorers in Yana and Maddie,” Woodard said. “We’ll rely on them pretty heavily in dual meets and when it comes time for conference. Tess and Jessica are also a great tandem; they allow us to do a lot of different things. They both know what it takes to reach the finals at conference, and they fill some very important roles for us in dual meets.”

This weekend marks the midway point of the season, and the team will not compete again until after the New Year. Next, CSU will travel to the West Coast to face down North Texas, Tulane and the host San Diego State. The meet will take place Jan. 10 in San Diego, Calif.

This release was provided to SwimSwam courtesy of CSU Swimming and Diving.

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Wow, that is ACTUALLY a good promotional picture.
Of course, every real swimmer is wondering why their hair is so perfect and dry – but it’s nice to see a school come up with something more creative than swimmers swimming… swimmers celebrating after a race… or swimmers behind the blocks…

Oh, and of course, good luck to all at the invite!

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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