Rice Swimming Adds Five New Signees for 2016-17

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Rice University head swim coach Seth Huston announced today the signing of five swimmers for the fall of 2016. In addition to Rylee Linhardt (Edmond, Oklahoma) and Claire Therien (Danville, California), about whom we have already written, the future Owls will include Harper Gillentine (Heath, Texas), Kate Nezelek (Midlothian, Virginia),and Sarah Nowaski (San Diego, California).

Harper Gillentine is a sprinter who specializes in 50/100 free and 100 fly. Swimming for Rockwall-Heath at the 2015 Texas 5A State Meet, Gillentine clocked personal bests finishing second in the 50 free (23.61) and third in the 100 free (51.38); she also anchored Rockwall-Heath’s 200 free relay (23.58). Gillentine also had a strong long course season at Rockwell Aquatic, culminating in best times at her championship meet, American Long Course, where she dropped more than 3 seconds in the 100 fly (1:05.39), .14 in the 50 free (27.26), and .6 in the 100 free (59.58).

Kate Nezelek is a senior at Trinity Episcopal, who holds Virginia Independent School records in the 50 free and 100 back. At the 2015 VISAA meet, Nezelek won the 50 free (23.27) and 100 back (54.58) and anchored Trinity’s record-breaking 200 medley (22.80) and runner-up 400 free (49.88) relays. Nezelek swims year-round for Poseidon Swimming, where she has achieved Juniors cuts or better in the 50/100 free and 100/200 back.

Sarah Nowaski led West Hills High School to a top-10 team finish at 2015 CIF-San Diego Section Championships with her first-place finishes in the 200 free (1:49.91) and 500 free (4:53.80), and her addition to the 200 medley and 200 free relays. She went on to pick up personal bests in the 200/500 frees at the inaugural CIF state meet. Nowaski also excels in 200 fly and distance free has achieved national cuts in those events swimming for College Area Swim Team.

From the Rice press release:

All have elite competitive credentials and have met the University’s challenging academic entrance requirements. The signees’ first semester at Rice begins in August of 2016 and the group would compete at the C-USA Swim Championships for the first time in 2017.

Coach Huston had high praise for the Owls’ latest class, his 14th at Rice since taking the helm of the program that continues to reach new heights. Under Huston’s direction the Owl swimmers have won three Conference USA championships in the last five years and qualified individually for both the U.S. Olympic Trials and NCAA Championships.

“This is an Owlsome signing class,” coach Huston quipped. “These young women are super students, with great character and personality. I am impressed with all of them individually as people – and that they are dedicated and excellent athletes is a bonus for our team. This signing class should make big contributions to the Rice University community and to the swim team for years to come.”

Rice Swimming Signee Highlights

Harper Gillentine * Sprints

Heath, Texas. (Heath HS / Rockwall Aquatic Center of Excellence – RACE)

Junior Nationals relay qualifier who was also a prep silver medalist in the 50-freestyle, and a bronze medal winner in the 100-free, at the Texas 5A Championships… Outstanding student, who maintained a cumulative 95-average and is ranked in the Top 4 percent of her class… Serves as the Hawks’ team captain.

Best times:

  • 50 free – 23.61 scy/27.26 lcm
  • 100 free – 51.38 scy/59.58 lcm
  • 100 fly – 57.46 scy/1:05.15 lcm

Coached by Tommy Sacco (HS) / Coached by Neil Walker (club)

Coach Huston said: “Harper comes to Rice as one of the top students in her high school class. I am sure she will thrive in Rice’s academic environment. In swimming, Harper has been on a steady and consistent trajectory of improvement these last couple of years. She has been well-coached by Neil Walker and I know her best swimming days lie ahead of her in college. Harper will be exciting to coach because I think she has so much potential to improve in a number of events.”

Gillentine said: “I felt at home as soon as I stepped on campus. The combination of the coaching staff, the student-athletes, and the school itself are a perfect fit. I am really excited to become part of the Rice family, and look forward to contributing to the success of the team. GO OWLS!”

Rylee Linhardt * IM/Middle Distance

Edmond, Okla. (North HS / King Marlin Swim Club)

Earned High School All-America honors in the 200-freestyle… No. 1 ranked swimmer in Oklahoma, who set new HS state records in the 100-backstroke and 200-free on the way to winning state titles in those events… Serves as team captain for the North HS Huskies… USA Swimming Scholastic All-America.

Best times:

  • 200 IM – 2:01.96 scy
  • 400 IM – 4:18.29 scy
  • 200 back – 1:57.82 scy
  • 200 free – 1:49.04 scy
  • 500 free – 4:50.85 scy

Coached by Steve Riggs (HS) / Coached by John Brown (club)

Coach Huston said: “Rylee was our first commit and what a boost that brought us in our recruiting. Our team really loved Rylee and it was obvious she was a great fit with our team from the very beginning. I am excited to have Rylee join the program next season. She is an incredibly versatile swimmer. She excels in the individual medley, backstroke and middle distance freestyle events. She has top times in the 200 back and 400 IM that are already among our top 5 all-time bests here at Rice. Being a member of the top club in Oklahoma, King Marlin Swim Club, Rylee knows the formula for a winning culture.”

Linhardt said: “I chose Rice because of the family-feel and the elite academic curriculum. The campus is so accepting and positive. The swim team made me feel welcome and right at home.”

Kate Nezelek * Sprints/Backstroke

Midlothian, Va. (Trinity Episcopal School / Poseidon Swimming)

Two-time High School All-America selection in the 50-freestyle and 100-backstroke… Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) 2015 Athlete of the Year… Six-time high school state champion… Two-time USA Swimming Scholastic All-America… Latin National Honor Society.

Best times:

  • 50 free – 23.20 scy
  • 100 free – 50.95 scy
  • 100 back – 54.58 scy
  • 200 back – 1:59.39 scy

Coached by Ted Sallade (club)

Coach Huston said: “I was impressed with Kate early in the recruiting process – she was always very inquisitive and engaging. Kate is an outstanding and creative student, and I am confident she will thrive in Rice’s culture. Kate was recruited by many schools and we feel fortunate that Kate selected Rice. Other college coaches will tell you we all believe Kate has a bright athletic future ahead of her. I think we can bring that to fruition here at Rice.”

Nezelek said: “As soon as I stepped on campus, I fell in love with the school. Everyone I met was so friendly, and it’s clear that the team is very close and supportive. I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to spend the four years at Rice surrounded by such wonderful people.”

Sarah Nowaski * Fly/Middle Distance

San Diego, Calif. (West Hills HS / College Area Swim Team)

U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier… Ranked among the Top 100 high school senior swimmers in the nation according to CollegeSwimming.com… CIF Swimmer of the Year and Grossmont Hills League MVP in 2015… Member of the West Hills HS Academic Honor Roll.

Best times:

  • 200 fly – 1:59.73 scy/2:15.71 lcm
  • 200 free – 1:49.53 scy
  • 500 free – 4:48.28 scy

Coached by Robert Krueger (HS) / Coached by Dave Kilmer (club)

Coach Huston said: “Sarah is in the Top 2% of her class and going to fit great into the academic setting at Rice. Athletically she is not very big, but packs a lot of punch and has a great work ethic. Sarah will be very integral in the butterfly and middle distance freestyle events for us. I think she will bring a real passion for life and excellence to the team.”

Nowaski said: “I loved the family-feel of the swim team and the amazing academics the school has to offer. I think it is the perfect place for me to challenge myself, in and out of the pool.”

Claire Therien * Freestyle

Danville, Calif. (San Ramon Valley HS / Orinda Aquatics)

NISCA All-America… 2014-15 Orinda Aquatics Swimmer of the Year, where she serves as team captain… CIF state finalist in the 500-free (seventh) and member of the bronze medal-winning freestyle relay… USA Swimming Scholastic All-America… Member of the National Honor Society.

Best times:

  • 200 free – 1:49.12 scy
  • 500 free – 4:53.91 scy
  • 1000 free – 10:06.93.54 scy

Coached by Heather Johnson (HS) / Coached by Ron Heidary (club)

Coach Huston said: “Claire is one of the most vivacious and positive young person I have met in years. In Claire’s view, everything is awesome. I think that kind of attitude can be infectious and certainly uplifting to those around her. She is a late bloomer of sorts, coming from water polo to swimming in only the last couple of years. She is in a great program at Orinda Aquatics, and will be well prepared to be a collegiate student-athlete.”

Therien said: “Rice is the perfect fit for me to develop into a better swimmer and leader under caring coaches in an excellent academic environment.”


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About Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant is the mother of four daughters, all of whom swim/swam in college. With an undergraduate degree from Princeton (where she was an all-Ivy tennis player) and an MBA from INSEAD, she worked for many years in the financial industry, both in France and the U.S. Anne is currently …

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