By Andrew Yourell
Every time Liza Baykova launches off the blocks and into first place in the 200-yard freestyle, spectators must wonder whether or not to pencil Baykova in next to death and taxes as one of life’s certainties.
But as phenomenal as Baykova was in Saturday’s heartbreaking 155-145 loss against the Northeastern Huskies, it was a different hero that helped the Wildcats claw back into the fight. Down 146-118, freshman Brittany Driscoll raced to a silver medal finish in the 200-yard individual medley, then climbed out of the pool and anchored the winning 400-yard freestyle relay. Combined with teammates Bettina Caspersen and Sarah Olver, who took first and third in the I.M. to sweep, the two-race performance brought UNH to within 10 points of Northeastern as the meet ended.
“[Driscoll] hops up from the [200 I.M.] and less than a minute-and-a-half later she’s anchoring the winning relay and coming from behind,” associate head coach Jarrod Zwirko said. “She’s a hard trainer. We see it at practice all the time.”
Driscoll didn’t have it easy in the relay, as she entered the water with less than a half-second’s lead over Northeastern’s anchor. Fatigued, she lost the lead as the duo finished the first 50 yards and turned for the last lap.
From somewhere, she found the extra spark to overtake her opponent, and she hit the wall at 3:36.64, just ahead of Northeastern’s 3:37.23.
“It was definitely really hard,” the rookie said. “But it’s just more about your mindset than anything else. Like, we train that hard. I’ve done more sprints than that in practice.”
Her gutsy performance at the meet’s end wasn’t Driscoll’s only contribution to the team on Saturday. For the second straight meet she won the 500-yard freestyle, narrowly defeating Northeastern’s Kerry Truesdell, with a time of 5:05.29. She added bronze in the 200-yard freestyle.
Joining Driscoll atop the podium were sophomores Baykova and Jess Harper and senior Bettina Caspersen.
Baykova dominated the sprint freestyle events, blowing her competition out of the water in the 50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyles in times of 23.98 seconds, 51.78 seconds and 1:51.28. The Moscow native has yet to lose an individual race this season, and could be a favorite to repeat as America East Swimmer of the Week after her three-win effort on Saturday.
“Liza’s a smart swimmer. She will go from one meet to the next and make the adjustments that she needs to make,” Zwirko said.
Harper, one of the stars in last week’s win against Vermont, repeated as champion in the 200-yard butterfly and backstroke events. In the 100-yard butterfly she placed second.
Caspersen, one of the team’s captains and its lone senior, opened the meet by swimming the breaststroke leg of the 200-yard medley relay. She was joined in the event by Baykova, co-captain Sarah Broderick and Harper. She then earned silver in the 100-yard breaststroke, before grabbing a pair of wins in the 200-yard breaststroke and the 200-yard I.M. in times of 2:20.65 and 2:08.41.
Zwirko was more concerned with how his team swam and the times they put on the board than he was with the end result.
“You always want to win, but I think the objective is to swim fast,” he said. “Train hard through the week and swim fast on the weekend. We don’t make sacrifices during the week to go and win meets.”
Zwirko elaborated by saying that head coach Josh Willman’s philosophy does not include altering training sessions during the week to accommodate for meets prior to the America East Championships. While the burden is tough on his athlete’s the reasoning is simple.
“[The swimmers] know that we’re challenging them every week in practices, in the weight room,” Zwirko, a graduate of UNH and of Willman’s system, said. “They know that the objective is to swim as fast as they possibly can at the end of the season.”
Driscoll, new to the method of training, said that so far the results have been positive, and that the meet atmosphere has helped the freshmen acclimate to college swimming.
“The training here is a lot different but it’s definitely working very, very well,” she said. “Everyone just swims so well in practices and in meets.”
If Willman and Zwirko continue to get these types of gutsy performances from their young swimmers, the rest of the conference had best watch out for the Wildcats at the America East Championships.
UNH’s next meet is on Oct. 31 at Central Connecticut State University. The Saturday meet will start at 2 p.m.
Driscoll's gutsy performance impresses in loss to Northeastern
By Andrew Yourell