By ANDREW YOURELL
Liza Baykova has been one of America East’s most dominant performers since her arrival on campus last fall, and she proved it again on Friday night with a pair of gold medals to pace the Wildcats past Maine in the team’s final regular season meet.
Baykova’s first swim of the night broke a Swasey Pool record, as she cruised to an easy victory in the 200-yard freestyle in 1:50.31. The talented sophomore already has the school record in the event, earning an NCAA “B”-cut time of 1:47.48 at last year’s America East conference meet.
“It was pretty good,” the Moscow native said of her new pool record. “I was kind of excited.”
For Baykova, the record was a matter of unfinished business; last season’s final dual meet saw the then-freshman finish the event in 1:51.11, just missing the pool record. She promised head coach Josh Willman then that she would break the record this year.
Baykova also crushed her competition in the 100-yard freestyle, earning first with a 50.98 second time. She is within striking distance of former All-American Denise Leckenby’s school record, and her time nearly earned another pool record on Friday night.
“Next year,” she promised with a grin.
While Baykova’s performance may have stolen the lion’s share of the spotlight, she was not alone in the victory. UNH won every single event en route to a 161-125 victory, which was only so close in score because UNH swimmers elected to compete exhibition towards the end of the meet.
Other notable performances came from Jess Harper, who won both the distance freestyle events and reigning America East Diver of the Week Hailee Miller, who swept both the 1-meter and 3-meter springboard events.
Harper’s 4:58.68 performance in the 500-yard freestyle is this season’s top time in the America East conference, but head coach Josh Willman admitted after the meet that the sophomore wasn’t racing at top-speed as part of the team’s taper.
“Jess hasn’t really gotten the chance to swim the 500 and the 1,000 too much, so we wanted to kind of test that out and see where she was in those events before our conference meet.” Willman said. “She kind of knew that she could win those events without too much effort…she said she backed off a lot in the 500.”
Despite conserving her energy for the team’s conference run, Harper nearly broke a team record as well. The Easthampton, Massachusetts native already holds the school’s 500-yard record, and her 10:03.78 was less than 3 seconds from Lauren McCandless’s school record in the 1,000-yard freestyle, and won the event by over 30 seconds.
In the diving events, Miller followed up a strong performance at last weekend’s Binghamton away meet with another pair of victories. On one-meter, she led a team sweep of the event, notching first with 228.07 points, followed by teammates Erin Cullather and Savanna Desmarais. The sophomore also won the 3-meter event with a 229.49, beating Maine’s best competitor by over 25 points. Cullather took bronze in the event.
“A few new dives have come together for [Miller] the last couple weeks, so I expect her to be in finals,” Willman said. “I expect to see a couple of [divers] in there, and a lot of it is going to be how nerves affect some of the new people.”
Also winning multiple events for the Wildcats were freshmen Linnea Lemerise and Vivi El-Sibay, who each won both backstroke and butterfly events, respectively. Lemerise also took the top spot in the 200-yard individual medley event, with El-Sibay coming in third.
Juniors Sarah Olver and Sarah Broderick won the 200-yard breaststroke and the 50-yard freestyle for the ‘Cats.
The team also celebrated Senior Night for its lone senior, Bettina Caspersen. The captain claimed the top time in the 100-yard breaststroke, nearly beat out Olver for the 200-yard event, and placed third in the 100-yard butterfly. Caspersen was honored for her contributions to the team—which includes numerous America East finalist awards—before the meet, and the team played her native Danish National Anthem before the meet.
“It feels really great. The team is awesome,” Caspersen said, after her teammates unveiled a life-size picture of their captain during the team’s pre-meet warmup.
Willman lauded the senior for her effort over her four years and for being instrumental in the team’s international recruiting efforts. Having swimmers like Caspersen around, he said, has helped new swimmers like Baykova and El-Sibay adjust to American collegiate culture.
The moment isn’t lost on the senior captain, who has a countdown to America East Championships going. The meet begins on Thursday, Feb. 11 and wraps up on Sunday, Feb. 14. For Caspersen, the goal is simple.
“This is my last swim, so just go out and be fast.”
Baykova’s record sinks Bears
By ANDREW YOURELL