March 18, 2009
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The Tennessee women's swimming and diving team will have a school-record 12 athletes compete at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships from Thursday to Saturday at Texas A&M's Student Recreation Center Natatorium.
Those competing on the biggest Lady Vol squad ever at the national meet will be seniors Brittany Nauta and Katie Gehring, juniors Alex Barsanti, Michele King and Jamie Saffer, sophomores Aleksa Akerfelds, Morgan Farrell, Martina Moravcikova and Tricia Weaner, and freshmen Abbie Alton, Jenny Connolly and Gabrielle Trudeau.
UT finished fourth at the Southeastern Conference Championships from Feb. 18-21, and will look to build on its conference finish at the national meet this week. Last season the Lady Vols placed eighth at NCAAs, its best finish since 1989 (fourth).
"The main goal is to have a great team meet," Lady Vol head coach Matt Kredich said. "Our performances were scattered at SECs, in that we had some phenomenal swims and dives but those performances never really seemed to ignite other performances. We want to have a much more unified performance at this meet. We've spent a lot of time defining our goals and working really specifically on the places that need improving, so I think we're going to be really good. I also believe we can improve our seeding in every event."
King, Saffer and Connolly have the top seeds of any Lady Vol and should challenge for individual titles.
King was the national runner-up last season in the 50y free and is seeded fourth in the event with a time of 21.89. The 10-time All-American tied for the SEC title in the event, and should also contend for All-America honors in the 100y free, an event she placed sixth in at the 2008 NCAA meet.
Saffer set the SEC Championship record (59.79) in the 100y breast en route to capturing the conference title in the event. Her best time of 59.42 in the 100y breast against Georgia is the fastest ever recorded in a dual meet in NCAA history and seeds her sixth. She finished 13th in her signature event at the meet last season.
Connolly will contend in both backstroke events. In her first SEC meet, the West Lafayette, Ind., native, smashed UT records in the 100y and 200y back, while placing second and 10th, respectively, in the events. She is seeded third in the 100y back with a best time of 51.34.
"If we go by the seeding sheet then Jamie, Michele, and Jenny should all be contending for spots on the podium," Kredich said. "I'm really excited about our relays, though. Each of our relays can be a lot better, and if we do what I think we're capable of we'll be finishing higher in those events than we have in a long time."
Connolly, Saffer and King make up the core of the Lady Vols' medley relays that should be in the mix to earn All-America honors. Either Weaner or Farrell will swim the other leg on the 200y and 400y medley relays at the national meet. UT placed fourth in both medley relays at SEC Championships.
Connolly and King will team with Nauta for the 200y free and 400y free relays. They will be joined by Alton on the 200y free relay and by Gehring on the 400y free relay.
The Lady Vols are seeded ninth in the 200y medley relay, 14th in the 400y medley relay and 11th in both the 200y and 400y free relays.
Trudeau is the lone Lady Vol representative in diving. The Montreal, Canada, native qualified for the meet last Sunday by finishing third on the platform at the Zone B Diving Championships to grab the 10th and final bid from the region to the NCAA Championships.
She will compete on the 1-meter, 3-meter and the platform, her best event.
"We're coming her with an open mind," UT diving coach Dave Parrington said. "It's already a wonderful experience for Gabbi. She is excited and really enjoying the moment. She has a great attitude and she's ready to have fun and compete."
King and Nauta will be competing at their third straight NCAA Championships, while Saffer, Akerfelds, Farrell, Moravcikova and Weaner will be making their second consecutive national meet appearance.
Alton, Barsanti, Connolly, Gehring and Trudeau will be making their first NCAA meet appearance.
Akerfelds will be competing in the 1650y free and the 500y free. She was an All-American last season in the 1650 and as a member of the 800y free relay.
Farrell and Weaner will compete in both backstrokes for the second straight season. Each earned an All-America honor as a member of a relay last season.
Moravcikova qualified for the national meet in both breaststrokes again. She will join Barsanti and Saffer in the breast events.
Alton, Gehring and Nauta each qualified for the meet because of their impressive performances on relays, but each will also swim at least one individual event. All three are entered into the 100y free, while Nauta will also swim the 200y free.
Nauta is a four-time All-American on relays.
The meet starts on Thursday at 11 a.m. CT with prelims. Finals will begin at 7 p.m. The Lady Vols will be competing in the 200y free relay, 500y free, 50y free, 1-meter board and 400y medley relay on the first day of competition.