SWIMMING: Toppers surprise the East Coast

Wes Watt

Intimidation stared at Western’s men’s swimming and diving team last week as it arrived at Maryland’s campus. Even though this event would not count against the 17-meet win streak currently underway, the Hilltoppers had a reason to be worried.

But Western coach Bill Powell stared right back as the team faced its toughest road test of the year and took on a big name lineup in the Terrapin Cup Invitational.

His team sent a shock wave throughout the Northeast by trouncing schools such as Yale, Maryland, Old Dominion and Connecticut to get some much-deserved respect.

Even with a pool four times the size of the Preston Center’s pool and seven Atlantic Coast Conference Championship pennants looking down on it, Western’s men’s team stared down intimidation and won the three-day event by 175 points. The women finished fourth.

“We turned some heads up there on the East Coast,” Western coach Bill Powell said. “They thought they were just playing some little Western Kentucky team and (thought they could) beat the crap out of them. But we really surprised some people.”

In each of four relay events Western put three teams in the top 16. The Toppers also put six in the top 16 in the 100-yard butterfly and five in the top 16 in the 200 butterfly. The relay and the butterfly event tag-teamed the eight other schools to help give Western a blowout victory.

“We are all pleasantly surprised,” junior swimmer Nick Bracco said. “That contributes so much to winning meets, when you get four or five guys in the finals.”

Bracco won the 200 medley relay, second in the 800 freestyle relay and also took third in the 100 butterfly.

While the men’s team disposed of its opponents, the women took on almost the same lineup as the men. To be successful, Western needed a strong team performance.

Senior diver Marci Kacsir did her part, as she had several outstanding performances over the weekend. A nail-biter finish at the finals helped her take her third first place finish of the meet.

Three-tenths of a point is all that separated Kacsir from her second place counterpart after she pulled off what Powell called the best dive of the year.

“It was exciting,” Powell said. “She had to get 52 points on the last dive to win and, bang, she gets 52 points.”

Kacsir was not alone atop the diving stats as junior Trisha Nailor also had strong finishes in the finals, finishing 11th in the one-meter diving and fourth in the three-meter.

With the divers holding their own, Western needed someone else to step up. Enter freshman swimmer Jennifer Johnson.

Johnson went into the last day exhausted after having three grueling days of preliminary competition.

But her best was yet to come.

Johnson waited until the next to last event of the competition to have her best performance of her young career.

It took just 1 minute 54.35 seconds for Johnson to go from exhaustion to a ball of energy as she set a school record in the 200 butterfly.

Johnson credits Western’s coaching staff for tapering the team’s workouts over the last two weeks, enabling her to still have gas for her record breaking performance.

“It was amazing,” Johnson said. “When I hit the wall I screamed because I was so excited. It’s not very often a record is broken, it’s very special.”

Reach Wes Watt at [email protected]