SWIMMING AND DIVING: Youth, competition no problem

Josh Buckman

Nine gone. No problem.

A freshman-laden team of women’s swimmers and divers headed west this weekend without the leadership of the nine departed seniors from last season.

But they impressed. Western’s women posted a 6-2 record in dual meets at the Sun Belt Conference Fall Classic in Las Cruces, N.M.

“They swam very well,” coach Bill Powell said. “That gives them lots of confidence.”

The Lady Toppers showed they weren’t ready to give up their title of Sun Belt Conference champions by beating favorite New Mexico State twice, by scores of 127-111 and 138-113. Both of Western’s losses came at the hands of non-conference opponent Air Force, 148-95 and 135-108.

The Lady Toppers also beat North Texas 158-79 and 170-67, and dropped Denver 179-71 and 153-89.

The second victory over New Mexico State came down to the final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay. At one point, the Lady Toppers were down by two seconds. But middlemen Rachel Buncher and Carol Brown made up time to give Western the lead, and anchor Meredith Mountjoy fended off a strong performance by Aggie Sarah Schaufler to secure the win.

“The whole team was behind me,” Mountjoy said. “I knew it was a real important race.”

Mountjoy also helped the Lady Toppers by posting wins in the 200- and 400-yard individual medley in times of 2:12.80 and 4:39.25, respectively. Another freshman, Jordan Beck, won the 200-yard butterfly in 2:11.07, while senior Deanne Thomas won the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 1:00.94.

The wins were a bit of a surprise coming from the largely inexperienced squad.

Much of the early success, the Toppers say, can be attributed to the swimmers’ close relationships.

“I love it,” Beck said. “It’s like a little family. We’re a social group.”

Despite a weekend of exceeded expectations, Powell remains cautious. He knows his young team will have to mature, maintain and move forward.

“If we’re going to win the Sun Belt, we’re going to have to improve,” he said. “What counts is how the team does later in the season.”

The next step comes next weekend, as the men and women travel to Monroe, La., to take on Louisiana-Monroe and Centennary.