Press Release courtesy of Rutgers Athletics.
Behind an experienced core of school record holders, NCAA qualifiers and seasoned leadership, Rutgers swimming and diving enters a new season with a focus on continuing the upward momentum in the Big Ten and the national scene.
The Scarlet Knights, under the guidance of third-year head coach Petra Martin, saw its highest finish in the Big Ten Championships last winter since joining the conference for the 2014-15 season. RU’s ninth place performance was highlighted by school record breaking swims by returning juniors Vera Koprivova and Francesca Stoppa, along with the 400-yard freestyle relay and 400-yard medley relay teams.
Four returning Scarlet Knights represented Rutgers at the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis, including senior diver Addison Walkowiak, sophomore diver Rachel Byrne, Koprivova in the 400-yard individual medley, 100- and 200-yard backstroke events, and Stoppa, who raced in a second straight NCAA Championships in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly. Adding graduated senior and two-time All-American diver Alyssa Black, the five NCAA qualifiers were the most for the program since sending seven in 2006.
“We have our goals as a team,” Martin said. “Much of the focus during the preseason has been defining those goals and realizing how to achieve them. We expect performance in the classroom, constantly building team culture, keeping a keen eye on recruiting, and taking responsibility that everyone knows their role on the team.”
The aforementioned NCAA qualifiers are set to lead Rutgers into a new campaign, and are constantly pushed by a talented roster of teammates surrounding them in the pool.
“We have a lot of confidence in our senior captains and leaders,” Martin said. “At this point, we consider our sophomores to be upperclassmen as well because of their experience and ability to lead a team. They have all the qualities of leaders and warriors despite having just one season in the collegiate pool.”
Sophomore Clare Lawlor, who was named a team captain this fall, found individual and relay success during her rookie year. She scored Big Ten Championship points in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events with a pair of NCAA “B” cut times. She is part of the 400 Free and 400 Medley Relay teams, swimming freestyle legs in school record swims at last year’s Big Ten Championships alongside Koprivova, sophomoreAlexandra Fabugais-Inaba and graduated senior Meghan Kiely in the freestyle, and with Koprivova, graduated senior Rachel Stoddard and Stoppa in the medley.
“Every day is another opportunity to keep working hard and to improve yourself in and out of the pool,” Lawlor said. “It’s amazing to see everything come together in the end. The anticipation to repeat that and improve this year is really exciting.”
Senior captains Larissa Neilan (breaststroke/IM) and Karli Rymer (free/fly), along with senior Thomasin Lee (free/fly) and junior Abbey Saunders (butterfly) make up the Scarlet Knights’ upperclassmen.
A strong sophomore class also includes Big Ten Championship finals qualifier Federica Greco (butterfly), along with Francesca Bertotto, Alexis Brewer, Sarah Davis, Meghan Moses and Nadia Nabhan.
Walkowiak holds all but one diving record in Rutgers history and looks to qualify for a fourth consecutive NCAA Championships in as many tries. With Byrne and Black joining Walkowiak at nationals last year, it marked the most divers at the NCAA Championships since head diving coach Frederick Woodruff joined the program in 1993.
Walkowiak placed sixth in the Big Ten in both the 1- and 3-meter dives, and eighth in platform. She will defend her Zone Championship in 1-meter diving on home boards on March 5-7 at the Rutgers Aquatic Center.
“I’m looking forward to doing it one last time,” Walkowiak said. “I want to enjoy myself and enjoy each and every day of training. I’m looking forward to Big Tens, hopefully making the NCAA Championships and doing better than I have over the last three years.”
Junior Marin Bloise has two years of Big Ten Championships experience in both 1- and 3-meter diving, while freshman Lauren Boone joins the squad after being named a three-time National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association All-American diver out of Concord Community High School in Indiana.
Martins’ newest recruiting class is highlighted by freshman Delaney Carey, a state championship-caliber breaststroker out of Orlando, Fla. Carey excelled on the national scene with two Top 5 finishes at the YMCA National Championships and two breaststroke titles at the Nashville Futures Championships.
“It has been a big change for me these last few weeks,” Carey said. “But it’s been really good. I can already see the changes Coach Martin has made in my stroke and how much I’m going to improve. I can’t wait for the Big Ten Championships to see how all the hard work comes out in the end.”
Four-time Illinois state championship qualifier Lexi Babovac, Cinnaminson High School MVP Lily Black and Colorado state relay champion Maggie Tibbitt all join the swimming team in their first year.
The Scarlet Knights were quite busy over the summer as seven swimmers competed at the U.S. Open Championships in New York and Koprivova swam in the World University Games in Taipei. Stoppa paced the crew at the U.S. Open with a second place finish and New Jersey open record in the 100-yard butterfly on the long course, while Bertotto, Davis, Greco, Koprivova, Lawlor and Neilan combined for four Top 10 times and nine finals appearances.
Koprivova then turned in a Top 16 world finish in the 200-meter backstroke at the World University Games representing her native Czech Republic amid Olympians and world class swimmers. Overall, the junior competed in the 50 Back, 100 Back and two relays for the Czech Republic, which was assistant coached by Martin.
The ebb and flow of the college swimming season has its moments of build-up, peak performance and rest built in over the course of a grueling five-month season. The Scarlet Knights begin the build-up at the Florida Gulf Coast Invitational on Oct. 6-7 before taking on a tough dual, tri and quad meet schedule in preparation for the Frank Elm Invitational on Nov. 17-19 at Rutgers.
Invitational season is the team’s first opportunity at peak performance with an eye on school records and NCAA qualifying times. Along with Frank Elm, RU will visit the Texas Invitational and Princeton’s Big Al Open while seeking those goals.
“The invitationals are the peak of the first semester,” Martin said. “It’s going to be difficult to rest enough for Frank Elm, but we will try to have fresh legs for Texas and Princeton for those in a position to push for qualifying for NCAA’s. It’s a great check-in point before Big Ten’s to see what we need to polish.”
The Scarlet Knights visit Ohio State for a tri-match with Virginia Tech, and host a two-day dual with Nebraska before the climactic Big Ten Championships on Feb. 14-17 in Columbus, Ohio. Rutgers hosts two championship meets in 2018 with the ECAC Championships set for Feb. 23-25 and the NCAA Zone Diving Championships slated for March 5-7.
The Tornado of Success
Fans of the program will see an iconic tornado on t-shirts, bulletin boards and social media accounts this season. Along with the hashtag, #EarnEverything, the Scarlet Knights have adopted this as a guide for the 2017-18 season.
“This is what separates the great teams from average teams,” Martin said. “Everyone on our team understands what aspects of everyday training and preparation are positive or negative. The bad stuff on the bottom of the tornado pulls you down. We want to be on the top of the tornado where the good stuff comes out.”
Follow Rutgers Athletics on Facebook (www.facebook.com/RutgersAthletics) and Twitter (@RUAthletics) for all of the latest news and updates. For specific updates regarding Rutgers swimming & diving, follow the program on Twitter (@RUSwimDive) and on Instagram (ruswimdive). The team is also on Facebook (facebook.com/RUSwimDive).