Showdown in the Sooner State (Swimming)

After the women finished a disappointing third and the men finished fourth in last year’s Mountain West Conference Swimming and Diving Championships, the Utes will be looking for a better finish to their team schedule this time around.

The Ute swimming and diving teams are at the Oklahoma City Community College Aquatic Center today for day one of the four-day competition that concludes Saturday.

Head coach Michael Litzinger said he is excited about the prospects of the three-time regular season champion women’s team, predicting a better finish from them this time around.

“We’re slowly climbing,” Litzinger said. “We’re poised to make a real good move up to the first spot. This is really our year to make a run at it. I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but it’s a three horse race between us, UNLV and BYU. I don’t want to jinx myself or anything, but I expect us to be the best.”

The women have top times in every relay except the 800 free, which they still have a shot at winning. In addition, as many as seven Utes have a shot at winning individual events. The conference meet is also the last chance for Amber Walter, Jennifer Fredsall, diver Kelsey Patterson and possibly other Utes to qualify for the NCAA Championships next month.

The men (2-3 MWC) are led by two standout seniors with postseason aspirations of their own: two-time MWC three-meter diving champion Sterling Richards and two-time defending 100-free title-holder Jonathan Larsen.

“We’re trying to use this event to get those guys into the NCAAs,” Litzinger said. “This is it for them. They’ve progressed as athletes so well with us, and now they’re on the cusp.”

Even after standout regular seasons from the two seniors, Litzinger knows that nothing is guaranteed.

“They only select 230 male athletes,” he said. “That’s not a lot of people when you think of all the schools in the country. Our goal is to create no doubt that they get in.”

The championships open up today with the women’s one-meter springboard prelims in the morning and the men’s one-meter prelims at 3 p.m.

The evening action begins with the men and women’s 200-yard medley relay finals and continues with the one-meter diving finals.

The Ute women have the top time in the 200-yard medley relay this season by 2.44 seconds, an extremely wide margin. The men are fifth in 200 medley top times and would seem to have little chance of making the podium.

Richards is a favorite for the men in the one-meter dive, while Ute junior and four-time Mountain West diver-of-the-week Patterson is the clear favorite to win the event on the women’s side. Freshman Anna Braszkiewicz also has the seventh-highest conference score this year on the one-meter springboard.

Day one concludes with the men and women’s 800-yard freestyle relays, a relatively weak event for the Utes. Although the Ute women have two separate teams among the top three in the 400 free relay, they don’t feature the same depth at longer distances. They will most likely finish third behind Air Force and TCU, and the men’s squad will vie for fourth place with Wyoming.

The Ute women will receive their third-straight regular season team championship award after the meet is over. The women went 8-0 in conference dual meets, their second-straight undefeated run through the MWC slate.

The bulk of the events take place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

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