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Busy weekend for ‘Cats

The season is still alive for several of UNH’s swimmers.
The team took six swimmers to Maryland to compete in a pair of meets at the United States Naval Academy this weekend. While both meets will be held in the Naval Academy’s Lejeune Hall, they will be very different meets for UNH’s Liza Baykova, Kaitlin Cahill, Brittany Driscoll, Jess Harper, Linnea Lemerise and Brittany Moffat.
Thursday’s meet is the Naval Academy Long Course Invite and will serve as a qualifier for the US Olympic Trials. Instead of 25-yard pool lengths, the meet will feature 50-meter lengths. On Friday, the Wildcats return to short-course yards for the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championships.
“In long course there are less turns so you don’t really have that extra push in the middle of a length,” Cahill said. The sophomore is one of four freestyle specialists the Wildcats are sending to the meet. “I prefer long course actually, because I have a longer freestyle stroke and I like not having to stop and flip and have to get my stroke rate up again.”
Cahill was the ninth place finisher in the 200-yard freestyle and 10th in the 100-yard freestyle.
Joining Cahill in the freestyle events will be classmate Liza Baykova, the America East conference’s undisputed sprint champion. Baykova won all three sprint events this season. The Russian native broke two of Denise Leckenby’s three school records, which have been in place since the late 1990s. Leckenby, the program’s only All-American, still holds the 50-yard freestyle record, but saw her 200-yard record fall last season, and Baykova broke the 100-yard record by .01 seconds this season.
Harper and Moffat are also excellent freestylers, though in the distance events. Harper broke the school and conference records in the 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle events, and Moffat was the second place finisher in the 200 and 500, and third in the 1,650.
The America East Championships were a chance for the team to compete as a unit, but the weekend will offer the Wildcats a chance to compete as individuals.
”My goal for tomorrow is to chase the Olympic trials cut,” Harper said. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to swim long course events that I haven’t raced in a long time and I’m excited and curious to see what I can do.”
Harper figures to swim the longest freestyle event, the 800-meter freestyle, which has an Olympic trial cut time of 8:49.99.
The ECAC Championships begin on Friday and end on Sunday. The meet gives the top swimmers in the eastern conferences the chance to compete against the top competition, and 45 schools have declared at least one swimmer or diver for the meet. Teams come from a variety of conferences, including the America East, Patriot League and Ivy League.
Last season, Baykova was the ECAC Outstanding Swimmer of the Meet. Baykova, Driscoll, Harper and Lemerise all won events at the America East Conference Championships and will have the opportunity to defend those titles at the ECAC level.
While Baykova and Harper have ECAC experience from last season, Friday will be the first opportunity for the three freshmen and Cahill to swim at the bigger championship meet.
Driscoll was the America East 400-yard individual medley champion and a finalist in the 200-yard butterfly and 500-yard freestyle. Her versatility was invaluable for the team all season, but makes it hard to predict what she’ll swim this weekend.
Lemerise was a finalist in the 200-yard individual medley and the runner up in the 100-yard backstroke, before winning the 200-yard backstroke and nearly breaking the two-minute mark.
“It’s a privilege being down here since [UNH head coach Josh Willman] only chose six of us,” Cahill said. “I’m very excited that I have another chance to swim fast.”
Baykova and Harper will have chances to further improve on their school records, as well as to try and qualify for the NCAA Championships, which will begin March 19.
Cahill doesn’t have any doubts about this weekend.
“I’m confident that we’ll all be able to swim faster.”

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