MIAC women's swimming & diving preview courtesy of Matt Higgins and the MIAC office
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. --- There was history made and a changing of the guard a year ago at the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) Women's Swimming and Diving Championships. Now, as the 2017 edition gets set to begin, will the University of St. Thomas follow up its climb to the top with another title, will Gustavus Adolphus College re-claim the crown, or will a new contender emerge?
For six consecutive seasons, Gustavus reigned supreme in MIAC women's swimming and diving, but the Gusties' quest for a seventh-straight title was halted but the Tommies in 2016, as Head Coach Scott Blanchard's team captured their first-ever MIAC title. Now, the roles are reversed in what has developed into an exciting, dramatic rivalry between the two programs.
After UST and GAC, the two Northfield schools – St. Olaf and Carleton – and Saint Benedict and St. Catherine all form a formidable top six and are expected to be in the mix again this season. Macalester, Concordia, Saint Mary's and Augsburg also showed demonstrated improvement in 2016, and all four return for the 2017 Championships hopeful that their progress will continue in a big way.
At the 2016 MIAC Championships, St. Thomas ended Gustavus' six-year run in dramatic fasion by pulling away in the final session. UST finished with a score of 873.5, to 693 for Gustavus. St. Olaf earned a third-place finish with a total of 485.5 with cross-town rival Carleton next in fourth at 389. Saint Benedict scored 389 to edge St. Catherine's score of 326 to give the Blazers the final spot in the top five. Macalester scored 182 in seventh, Concordia moved up into eighth with 143 points, just three ahead of Hamline (140). Saint Mary's also moved up on the final day to finish with 130 points, with Augsburg's 121 points rounding out the final standings.
As all attention turns to this week's 2017 MIAC Championships, all individual talk begins with reigning NCAA Division III and MIAC Women's Swimmer-of-the-Year Emma Paulson. The St. Thomas star won a trio of national championships – 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard backstroke, and 200-yard backstroke – en route to her national honor a year ago. She also returns as the MIAC's two-time defending champion in the 50-free and 100-back, and she's also the defending champion in the 200-back. She's joined by junior Nicole Herrli, the reigning MIAC 200-yard breaststroke champ, sophomore Katelynn Strauss, the defending MIAC champ in the 500-yard freestyle and 200-yard butterfly, and another standout sophomore in Alex Howard to give the Tommies another potent lineup.
Gustavus figures to again be in the mix for the MIAC title, with plenty of talent back in St. Peter as well. Junior Kate Reilly is the two-time reigning champ in the 100-yard butterfly, and also won the 100-yard freestyle in 2016. Senior Hayley Booher is eyeing her fourth-straight 400-yard individual medley championship, and her third-straight 100-yard individual medley title. Sophomore Linnea Rizzo is also back after winning the mile in her MIAC Championships debut.
There's also a ton of talent back on the diving board, as the winners of the last three MIAC Diver-of-the-Year award are back. St. Olaf's Courtney Miller won both boards and took top diving honors a year ago, and St. Catherine's Jenna Nagy is also back after earning Diver-of-the-Year accolades in each of her first two seasons. The Oles also welcome back All-MIAC swimmer Claire Walters and a pair of breakout rookies in Caitlin Croasdell and Helen Jensen. In addition to Nagy, the Wildcats bring back Alissa Ellingson, who earned All-Conference honors in her MIAC Championship debut a year ago, and standout junior Mary Jane Voss.
Carleton also has high hopes with a pair of All-Conference swimmers back in NCAA qualifier and All-America Honorable Mention Maria Wetzel and fellow All-Conference swimmer Caroline Mather. The Knights are also excited about the addition of first-year Ada Meyer in the breaststroke events. Saint Benedict has high hopes for the continued success of sophomore Ashley Groebner in the breaststroke events, junior Katie Heller in the sprint freestyles and is happy to add rookie diver Maggie Pomerenke, who has already set the CSB school record on the 1-meter board.
Macalester brings back senior leader Smaranda Georgescu who has top-15 times in three difference vents, and she's joined by junior Kaia Lund and rookie diver Francesca Gillis. Concordia will be led by senior backstroker Libby Hardwick, and a pair of standout sophomores in Alaina Dehnke and Ciara White. Hamline has super sophomore Taylor Martinek – who holds a pair of Piper school records – back in the pool, to supplement the senior leadership of diver Kayla Hennum and swimmer Maya Rapp. Saint Mary's has strong upper-class leadership in senior Grace VanBeest and the youthful talent of first-year swimmer Kizzy Bell and sophomore diver Allie Davidson. Augsburg has high hopes for its strong, young nucleus of sophomores Maddie Moser and Cassie Lehman on the diving boards, and fellow sophomore Mary McSharry in the butterfly.
The 2017 MIAC Swimming and Diving Championships will be held Thursday, Feb. 16, through Saturday, Feb. 18, with two sessions each day. The morning sessions will begin at 10:30 a.m. (doors at 9 p.m.) and will feature preliminary races, with the evening championship sessions starting at 6:30 p.m. (doors at 5 p.m.). Saturday's championship doors will open at 2:30 p.m. for preliminary heats of the 1,650-yard freestyle and diving.
Tickets are available at either a single-session rate, or all-session passes will also be available for fans who plan to attend the entire event. Single-session passes cost $10 for adults and $5 for students, and all-session passes are $50 for adults and $25 for students. Heat sheets are included in the cost of admission. Children 5 and under are admitted free, and MIAC passes will be honored for all six session. No other passes or discounts will be accepted.
As in years past, all six sessions will be broadcast live online thanks to Webcast America. Fans will also be able to watched archived video of each session following the event and purchase DVDs of the broadcasts via Webcast America's site. MIAC Media's Mike Gallagher will handle play-by-play duties for four of the six sessions. There will also be "live" results available online with results updated shortly after the conclusion of each event for fans following the action from afar.
Concordia MIAC Meet Preview
• Gary Fisher (1st season)
A Year Ago
• 8th place | 143 points
Swimmers and Divers to Watch
• Alaina Dehnke (So. | School record holder in the 200-yard backstroke; ranked in the Top 25 in the 200-yard backstroke and 1000-yard freestyle)
• Libby Hardwick (Sr. | Ranked in the Top 25 in the MIAC in both the 100-yard and 200-yard backstroke)
• Ciara White (So. | Ranked in the Top 16 of the MIAC in both the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke; qualified for the "B" finals in both events last season at the MIAC Meet.)
Did You Know?
• Concordia's service project for the year was volunteering at the Great Plains Food Bank.