By ANDREW YOURELL
Last week, UNH head coach Josh Willman had to have a discussion with his athletes about preparation and focus after the Wildcats barely eked out a win. This week, the Wildcats responded with a blowout win over the University of Rhode Island on the road.
UNH logged the winning time in 15 of the meet’s 16 events, and recorded the top two times in nine of those events to finish off the Rams 172-120. Leading the way for the Wildcats were Liza Baykova and Jess Harper, who each won three individual events.
“Given the fact that we traveled down last night and that the URI pool has a separate warm down area, the women were able to prepare better since we didn’t have the long bus ride immediately before competing,” Willman said. “We had a good warm up and I think the underclassmen are learning that you can’t take it for granted that you are going to swim fast, you have to work for it.”
The underclassmen form the nucleus of the Wildcats roster, and they shone in the rout. In addition to Baykova and Harper, sophomores Bridget Miller and Hailee Miller and freshman Brittany Driscoll recorded wins. Senior Bettina Caspersen and junior Sarah Broderick grabbed gold for the upperclassmen.
Baykova has already been tabbed the America East Swimmer of the Week twice this season, and has yet to concede an individual race. On Saturday, she dominated once again, claiming the top spot in each of her three races. In the 50-yard freestyle, Baykova logged a 24.45 second time. She also finished ahead of the pack in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events with times of 52.57 and 1:55.34.
Harper has also been a force this season, showing off toughness and versatility with an often-grueling race schedule. Against the Rams, Harper led the field in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly events and the 200-yard individual medley.
Baykova and Harper currently hold the top times in several events in the America East conference. Harper holds the top spot in both butterfly events and the 200-yard backstroke. Baykova owns the freestyle sprints, with top times in the 50, 100 and 200 this season, but Willman said that the Moscow native has not been 100 percent recently.
“A good number of people are battling sickness like Liza,” he said. “So the times are reflective of what they are capable of.”
Classmate Bridget Miller joined the talented duo with a win of her own, in the 500-yard freestyle. She also took second place in the 1,000-yard freestyle to Driscoll, the Wildcats’ freshman phenom. Willman has praised Driscoll early and often this season.
Caspersen, earned wins in both breaststroke events, with times of 1:06.36 and 2:23.28 in the 100- and 200-yard races. The team’s lone senior and co-captain described the day as a “solid win.” The Wildcats’ other captain, Broderick, claimed a top finish in the 100-yard backstroke. Her 58.87-second mark was nearly a full second ahead of freshman Linnea Lemerise, who earned second place.
On the boards, it was a record day for Hailee Miller. She swept both the 1-meter and 3-meter boards, collecting her first career wins. She also logged personal bests in both events, with a 232.00 on the 1-meter board and a 216.46 on the high dive.
“I mean I didn’t do anything differently. Just kept a positive energy on deck,” she said of her career bests. “The team was overall more energetic this meet than the last so that really helped.”
The Wildcats also had strong performances on the boards from Erin Cullather and Savanna Desmarais, who each logged fourth-place finishes to score points. Desmarais broke the 200-point mark for the first time this season, with a 200.78 on the 1-meter board.
Willman also praised freshman Vivi El-Sibay’s performances while also shedding light on some of the team’s strategy in training.
“Vivi is doing well dropping time each meet and making technical adjustments to her stroke,” he said. “We are trying to get others to focus on their technique and strategy more than just getting in and reacting to their competition or just racing the event the same way they did previous weeks.”
The next time the Wildcats will get to see how their focus has paid off will come at Rutgers during the Frank Elm Invite. The three-day meet will begin on Nov. 20 and run through Nov. 22 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Nearly a dozen teams competed in the meet last year.
“We plan to work really hard next week and then let up next weekend and the following week leading up in preparation for Rutgers,” Willman said. Rutgers will be the final meet of the calendar year for the Wildcats.