The University of Rhode Island swimming and diving team endured plenty of ups-and-downs over the weekend on route to a ninth place finish in the Atlantic 10 Championships at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio.
Eleven teams embarked on their quest for conference supremacy beginning on Thursday and concluding on Sunday afternoon. The Rams, despite enjoying several personal bests, were forced to battle through some injury and health problems, as their total score of 192.5 fell considerably short of the champion Richmond Spiders, who, with 570 points, won their seventh straight A-10 title.
Unfortunately for Head coach Mick Westkott and the team, they were not at full strength with several competitors entering the meet injured or sick. Senior Maria Smirnov, URI’s top diver who qualified for the NCAA Zone A Diving Championships next month, competed while ill and finished 15th in the 1-meter dive. Westkott believes the result could have been improved if the circumstances were different, but was nevertheless pleased by the grit and determination of his team.
“We had some major hurdles, but I think they did really well,” Westkott said. “Fifty-one swims last weekend and 41 were seasonal best times and 21 were personal bests, which means we were fast. It was an uphill battle, but we kept fighting. We have to try not to let the finish get in the way of what we know we are capable of doing.”
URI, despite the unsettling finish, was able to produce plenty of noteworthy performances, including a record-breaking performance by senior Carly DeLiberty and sophomore Nicole Petta in the 100-yard breaststroke. They both obtained the top time ever recorded in URI history when they clocked in simultaneously at 1:02.16 in the preliminary round. Petta then capped off the momentous feat by winning bronze in the final with the exact same time. DeLiberty just missed the podium with a fourth place finish (1:02.70). Westkott was beaming with pride over his two swimmers, knowing how important they have been to the team’s overall progress this season.
“It is a significant accomplishment,” Westkott said about the record. “It is obviously not easy to do, and they were just strong all weekend.”
DeLiberty and Petta will both have an opportunity to qualify for the NCAA Championships, which begin on March 16, if they are able to navigate their way through the B Cut. They have already had the privilege of representing the university in the USA Winter Nationals last December, and will look to further cement their status as two of the most prolific Rams in program history.
DeLiberty was also involved in URI’s other record-setting event, the 200-yard freestyle relay, and joined fellow senior Bridget Whalen and sophomores Eliza Anderson and Grace Kneller in earning seventh place with the program’s new time to beat of 1:34.08. Senior Lauren Folkert added to the individual growth over the weekend, as she placed sixth in the 200-yard backstroke, while junior Sydney Williams took fifth in the 1650-yard freestyle. Freshman Katy Evans led the way in diving, earning 12th in the 1-meter dive. Aside from the few individuals fortunate enough to extend their seasons, competition concludes for Rhode Island, who despite falling two spots from last year’s A-10 Championships, did win more meets and enjoy more individual progress overall. Westkott credits his senior leadership for shaping the program going forward.
“It all starts at the top, and the top is the senior class,” Westkott said. “They were great leaders all year long. They set the tone for this is what we do and what we are from now on.”
Westkott and company will wait to see how Smirnov, DeLiberty and Petta fare in the coming weeks, as they attempt to earn individual accolades and add to their already storied URI careers.