U swimmers clinch share of MWC crown

For the first time ever, the U women’s swimming team has won a share of a conference title. The MWC dual-meet championship, also known as the regular-season championship, was clinched on Saturday by virtue of a 163-117 win over Air Force. The Utes, however, still have to beat BYU on Friday if they want the title all to themselves.

“We thought we had a real good chance to win the dual-meet championship when the season began, but then we had some things happen on our team that put that into question,” head coach Mike Litzinger said.

The Utes certainly had to overcome some obstacles this season, losing their top sprinter, Neringa Statkeviciute, to injury before the season, and their top diver at midseason.

“Because we’re without a diver, we’ve gone into every meet 32 points in the hole,” Litzinger noted. “So that’s a real tribute to our athletes. By all normal conventions, you shouldn’t be able to do what we did.”

The Utes go into their final regular-season match this weekend with an overall record of 9-1 and a conference mark of 6-0.

“We knew if we swam to our potential from the start, we’d be in this position: going into BYU this Friday undefeated in conference, with a chance to win the regular season title,” Litzinger said.

The women are actually slightly ahead of the coaches’ preseason prediction, with a piece of the title already in the bag.

“All those banners hanging up at our pool are for the men of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Up until this year, the women were sort of a side note,” Litzinger said.

“It was really exciting for the girls to know that we’ve accomplished quite a few things that the program has never done before.”

The clinching meet against Air Force was a breeze for the women, who won by almost 50 points despite the aforementioned diving deficit.

“Air Force, for the women, was kind of like New Mexico last weekend. We knew there was no way we were going to lose the meet. We were just too talented for them,” Litzinger said.

Marta Stepanczuk continued her streak of invincibility, winning the mile and 500-yard freestyle, while Kristen Kaiser proved that the term “team anchor” is more than just an awkward swimming metaphor for a consistent performer, as she won both the 200-yard freestyle and the 400 yard individual medley.

Contributing to their success was the 400-yard medley relay team of Leah Jensen, Tessa Greegor, Meghan Demchuk and Amy Barefield, who swam their fastest time of the season (147.08) en route to a victory in that event.

The men also turned in a fine performance on Saturday, beating Air Force 162-132. Jonathan Larsen, Cody Rempfer and Evan Castro won four events each, combining for more than half (85) of the team’s 162 points.

“Those three guys are the leaders of our team, and you don’t win meets like we did at Air Force without the leaders on your team stepping it up and getting the job done,” Litzinger said.

Sophomore Sterling Richards continued his hot streak, winning both diving events for the fourth consecutive meet.

“He’s one of the premier divers in the conference, no question. But our men are loaded in diving altogether,” Litzinger said. “All the credit goes to coach Rachel Degener, who has built the men’s diving program up to where it is in just one year.”

After this weekend’s successes, the Utes are still undefeated on the season and will head into Provo next weekend needing a victory to win the MWC title.

“My first year as head coach at Utah, 2000-2001, our men did not win one single meet. My second year, they won one,” Litzinger said. “But through the efforts of our coaching staff, and some very, very hard work on the part of our swimmers, we’ve worked our way back to the position we’re in right now: undefeated going into the last dual meet of the season. It has truly been the resurrection of a program.”

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