By ANDREW YOURELL
It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t the way they drew it up, but the Wildcats managed to pull out a 158-142 win on Saturday at Central Connecticut State University’s Jack Saydum Natatorium.
UNH trailed the Blue Devils for most of the afternoon, and did not put up good times. It was the first away meet for many of the Wildcats, who have seven freshmen on the roster, and head coach Josh Willman thinks that swimming away from UNH’s Swasey Pool played a factor.
“It’s always difficult to swim on the road,” he said. “With our team being so young, most of the new people are comfortable in our pool.”
The Natatorium features a six-lane pool, which means no warm-up and cool-down lanes for swimmers. It’s also a shallower pool, and the starting blocks were so poor that towels were used to cover their surfaces. All in all, it was a shock for some of Willman’s younger swimmers.
Despite the pool conditions, it was the team’s young swimmers that stepped up and helped UNH regain the lead.
Down 124-102 with only four events remaining, the Wildcats got a huge points boost when they swept the 500-yard freestyle. Leading the charge was freshman Brittany Moffat, who also won the 1,650-yard freestyle earlier in the meet. Brittany Driscoll, another freshman, and sophomore Bridget Miller followed Moffat, and the 1-2-3 finish brought UNH within striking distance.
“I think both Brittany’s are doing a great job,” senior captain Bettina Caspersen said. “They definitely know how to get down to business.”
That focus and preparation was something that Willman stressed the entire team needed to work on. Moving forward, it will be something the team focuses on, according to Caspersen.
“Being eager and mentally preparing yourself throughout the week for the meet is something we’re working on every day,” she said. “It takes time to get there.”
He did, however, reserve high praise for Driscoll, who has seamlessly become one of the top swimmers on the team, despite her youth and relative inexperience.
“She’s awesome,” he said. “She’s been like that every single meet we’ve had so far.”
Indeed, the rookie was relied upon to carry the team late in the afternoon. After swimming the 500, Driscoll had only one event to rest before swimming the 400-yard individual medley, one of the sport’s most grueling races. She performed phenomenally, winning the event. Caspersen came in second in the event, and junior Sarah Olver’s fourth place finish helped to give UNH a slim lead heading into the final event, the 800-yard freestyle relay.
UNH’s top swimmers led off, with Jess Harper’s first leg opening a lead over Central Connecticut’s lead swimmer. Junior co-captain Sarah Broderick entered the water next, and increased the lead for sophomore superstar Liza Baykova, who slammed the door on the Blue Devils comeback chances. By the time Driscoll entered the water to anchor the race, she had half a pool length lead.
“As a team we’re very strong in the longer events, and I think that has to do with the training we do,” Caspersen said of the team’s dominant performances in the distance events.
In addition to the new setting, one of the reasons that UNH failed to meet its usually high standards had a lot to do with the team’s health. Several team members were battling minor illnesses and fatigue on the bus ride to Connecticut. Willman spoke with his student-athletes on the return trip about taking care of their bodies, focusing on sleep, nutrition, and hydration. With the team counting on each and every swimmer to perform well in meets, he said that the kinds of issues the team experienced on Saturday need to be overcome in future meets.
“I think I just want them to remember to be tough, especially with the new people,” he said. “They can’t really let how they are personally feeling—their aches and pains, or their health—they can’t really focus on that.”
UNH has the week to get healthy before travelling to the University of Rhode Island for a matchup against the Rams on Saturday. Caspersen said that she’s confident the team will be ready and eager to hit the water.
“Since it’s the last dual meet of the semester, I think that helps as motivation and being excited. I also think that the incoming freshman now know what it will be like to be on the road, and that will help too.”
Late surge lifts ‘Cats
By ANDREW YOURELL