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Scot’s Swimmers Ready to Make Waves at Championships

February 16, 2012

MONMOUTH, Ill. – The Monmouth College swim team may not be blessed with large numbers, but the Fighting Scots hope their top-to-bottom quality will be enough to make a run at this weekend’s Midwest Conference Swimming and Diving Championships in Appleton, Wis.

      Just six men will hit the pool for first-year MC coach Alex de la Pena, but two of those swimmers – senior Josh Dunn and sophomore Gabe Baginski – accounted for five league titles last season and have seven overall. On the women’s side, senior Krysta Sparks is the lone swimmer with a conference crown.

      Steady improvement this season has seen the men post 17 top 10 times, a mark equaled by MC’s women. Taking it a step further, the men and women have a combined 17 swims in the top three heading into this weekend.

      “We’re right there,” smiled de la Pena. “This is a nerve-racking time of the year for a coach. Kids put a lot of faith into the taper, but it’s really the body of work you’ve done over the season going into the taper. They’ve done a great job this season. We’ve been able to adjust and fine tune everyone’s training. I think we’ll have some pretty good swims.”

      The Scots will have plenty of options for de la Pena. Dunn – a conference champion last season in the 100 and 200 freestyles and the 200 IM – is ranked second in the 100 free this season. He’s also ranked fourth in the 200 IM and second in the 400 IM, where younger brother Brett Dunn is seeded 10th.

      Baginski won crowns in the 500 and 1650 free last winter, but has a new look this season. He’s ranked second in the 1000 free and third in both the 200 and 500 free events, where senior Joe Testolin is seeded just outside the top 10. Baginski has also knocked out top six times in the 100 and 1650 free, as well as the 200 backstroke.

      “Josh and Gabe have the best chance to qualify for nationals,” reported de la Pena. “It’s our hope that they get those qualifying times. They each have great ability. We’ll just play it day-by-day to figure out exactly what events they’ll swim.”

      The men have the second-fastest time in the 800 free relay, and there’s more firepower in three other relays. The 400 medley and 200 and 400 free relays are all ranked third heading into the weekend. The women also have strong relay teams, as the 200 and 400 freestyles and the 400 medley have each posted top three times.

      The women also have talent and versatility on their side, in addition to the advantage of a pair of divers. Junior Abby McGuire and freshman Clarissa Henby give the Scots a scoring punch they haven’t had in recent years.

      “Having the divers is huge,” said de la Pena. “To be able to score in the well is something we weren’t able to do in the past. The points they can score is a big part of our team effort.”

      While Sparks is the most decorated of the women, she’s not alone when it comes to contenders. Junior Erica McAloon and freshman Erin Willhite are neck-and-neck in the 50 and 100 free races. Willhite is second in the shorter race and McAloon is third. The pair is ranked 8-9 in the 100.

      “We expect Erin and Erica to be big point-scorers for us,” said de la Pena. “They’ve put together some good swims for us. Now it’s time to see what we can do at the conference level.”

      The Scots should also be exceptionally strong in the butterfly events, where Sparks and fellow senior Rachel Holm – with just two months training after a study abroad trip to Chile last fall – rank 3-4 in the 200 fly. Sparks is seeded second in the 100 fly, missing the top time by one one-hundredth of a second. Holm is seeded ninth.

      In the 200 breaststroke – Sparks’ title event at the 2009 meet – the senior is ranked fifth and could be challenged by junior Amanda Zaidel, who has the MWC’s seventh-fastest time.

      “Krysta has a shot at another title,” claimed de la Pena. “The question is whether it will be the breaststroke or the butterfly. Rachel has a good shot in the fly events, too. Dani Gordon, Kendra Kuehl and all those women can contribute points.”

      If de la Pena’s women can produce enough points, it could be an historic season. Depth and a good amount of quality could see the women claim their highest finish in the history of the program.

      “If the women can muster up a lot of top eight finishes, third is not out of the question,” predicted de la Pena of his 12 women, who finished fourth a year ago. “That would be amazing. The guys have a lot of versatility, so we’ll be able to plug swimmers in to get the most team points. We’re shooting for fourth because of our low numbers. Our big motivation is to be in the role of the spoilers.”

      The Scots hope to produce enough “spoilers” to cook up a run at the league title this weekend. The MWC Championships begin Friday morning.

 Dan Nolan

Monmouth College Sports Information Director



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