University of Rhode Island senior Carly DeLiberty and sophomore Nicole Petta had the prestigious honor of competing at the AT&T USA Winter Nationals this past weekend at the Georgia Tech McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Georgia.  

DeLiberty and Petta both took part in the 100-yard breaststroke last Friday, with DeLiberty finishing 45th overall (1:03.92) and Petta clocking in at 50th (1:04.43). The two talented swimmers are the most recent URI swimmers to compete in Winter Nationals since Chaya Zabludoff did in 2014 where she placed 58th in the 500-yard freestyle event, and are only the fourth and fifth swimmers to ever qualify for the meet.

The qualification period for Winter Nationals was between Nov. 4 2015 and Nov. 1 2016, where the qualification time to beat was 1:03.09 in the 100-yard breaststroke. Head coach Mick Westkott is extremely proud of his two swimmers for making the meet based on their times during the qualification period during last year’s Atlantic 10 Championships.

“The fact that they both got there is really huge,” Westkott said. “We haven’t been there since 2014 I think. For those two to make it is a testament to the kind of season they had at the end of last year. They were really excited about being there, and they did a really great job.”

They got the opportunity to compete against some of the best swimmers in the United States in their event. The talented opposition included: 2012 Olympian Breeja Larson, (59.14) who finished second in preliminaries, 2016 U.S. Olympian Melanie Margalis, (59.50) who finished fourth, 17-year-old Margaret Aroesty, the youngest recorded swimmer to finish a breaststroke in qualifying time, who finished eighth (59.50), and the winner of the event Miranda Tucker (59.00).

“The level of competition was extremely high,” Petta said. “There were Olympians swimming and warming up with you. It is a whole different vibe and energy there, it was a very hard competition. But it was really something that we needed.”

The abundance of world-class swimmers present was validation for DeLiberty and Petta in regards to of all of their preparation and hard work. They knew that they belonged.

“It gave us people to compete against outside of the collegiate level,” DeLiberty said. “It was nice seeing big names without being intimidated in competing against the best.”

While their results did not place them atop the leaderboard, the URI duo can take satisfaction from the fact that they, just by the nature of competing on a big stage, improved as swimmers. DeLiberty and Petta are hoping to ride the wave of momentum that brought them to the Nationals and turn it into a successful season going forward.

“I’m happy with (her performance), it put Nicole and I both into a good position for A-10s,” DeLiberty said. “We were fortunate enough last year to be side-by-side together to race at A-10s. We hope our times can get even lower so we can win them this year.”

In addition to growth, the whole process has been a great bonding experience for both Petta and DeLiberty. They have been training partners for quite some time now and they have developed a strong chemistry with one another that has worn off on their teammates.

“Carly is probably one of my biggest role models,” Petta said. “She pushes me when I need to be pushed and is inspiring in any aspect as a training partner. Her being my teammate is one of the best things that could ever happened to me in my swimming career here. I am really thankful for her and the way we train together. We are just a great duo.”

Westkott has seen an impact on the training partners and how they have pushed each other as competitors, while also making the team better as a whole, with the team losing only one of seven meets this season.  

“Nicole and Carly are really great for each other, and they have been great training partners, really motivating each other,” Westkott said. “They have been providing that same encouragement and motivation for the rest of the team becoming inspirations for everyone else. There is clear evidence of that everyday that we practice.”