Down the backstretch they come

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

If it weren’t for the way the women of the U swim team went 6-0 on six- straight road trips this year, one might expect to see the team members clicking their heals together while repeatedly shrieking, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

Unlike “The Wizard of Oz,” the Ute women’s six-straight road victories are no dream. Although the women have been lead by seniors Amber Walter and Alison McInturff, those two are by no means the only reason the swimming team has basically gone uncontested since starting the season in October.

Sophomores Shannon McQueen and Jennifer Fredsall have racked up multiple wins for the Utes this year, while junior Adrienne Coburn and senior Rachael Curci have been instrumental in the Utes’ success, as well.

The Ute men, on the other hand, have not enjoyed the same success as the women. After a win over Denver to open the season at home, the men went 2-5.

The good news for the men is that their record is deceiving.

The men made repeated trips to the Midwest to compete against some of the best teams in the country at the Ohio State and Purdue Invites.

Though the Utes came away with more moral victories than anything, the experience was valuable, especially as the Utes have been geared all season long to make a strong statement during the Mountain West Championships.

Seniors Walter and Kelsey Patterson have stolen the spotlight for the second-straight year.

Walter has been practically untouchable in the freestyle sprint events, yet to finish anything but first in any of the 50 or 100 free events she has competed in. Walter has been so solid in the 50 free that she owns the fourth-fastest time in the nation this year.

That time has qualified Walter for the NCAA Championships, which she will be competing in for the second-straight year. As Walter’s skills have also consistently helped her relay teams finish first whenever she competes, she seems to be a front-runner for a second-straight MWC Swimmer of the Year award.

Patterson has found similar success on the diving board. Before Saturday’s meet against New Mexico, Patterson had gone 12 straight events without losing a single 1- or 3-meter diving competition.

Like Walter, Patterson looked to have a good shot at repeating her MWC female Diver of the Year award this year. But unlike Walter, Patterson’s claim to that award hasn’t seemed as inevitable.

TCU freshman Jennifer Ferguson has been giving Patterson a run for her money all year, collecting four straight MWC Diver of the Week awards along the way.

But when the Utes traveled to Fort Worth to take on the Horned Frogs, Patterson took her biggest step of the season toward retaining the Conference’s top diving award by beating Ferguson on both diving events in convincing fashion.

For these reasons, the women’s portion of the U’s swim team seems to be in a great position to reach its goal of 9-0 seasons two of the last three years.

To get there, they must beat Wyoming and the Air Force Academy in back-to-back meets this Friday and Saturday at the U Natatorium.

“With Wyoming, we expect a very competitive meet,” said head coach Mike Litzinger. “They are coming off a very strong performance against UNLV, where the women won and the men almost beat the defending conference champions. We expect everything they have on Friday.”

With the Cowgirls, Utah faces a team that is also undefeated inside and outside of the Mountain West Conference.

In Friday’s meet, the Utes look to have the edge in the sprint events. The real test for the Utes will rest upon Curci’s shoulders. Wyoming boasts very strong distance swimmers, and Curci will likely need to be at her best to fend off the Cowgirls in the pool.

“Wyoming is probably the most improved team in the conference this year,” Litzinger said.

For the men, Wyoming matches up fairly equally with the Ute men. In fact, the Cowboys went in and nearly upset the defending MWC champion UNLV men before fading down the stretch.

Wyoming will be a perfect way for both teams to start their three-game home stand.

On Saturday, the men will host a very overpowering Air Force team. The Falcons boast quality swimmers in every event and will be lead by MWC swimmer of the year Chris Knaute. It is likely that the Utes will have to outperform most of their personal bests this season to give Air Force a challenge.

“Air Force will be a very tough opponent on the men’s side,” Litzinger said. “They go three-deep in almost every event and Chris Knaute can swim almost every event well.”

The women will likely be able to mix their lineup again, as the Air Force women have yet to win a meet this year, and Utah probably won’t have much difficulty beating the overmatched Air Force Academy.

Kim Peterson

A member of the U’s swim team uses flippers to practice on Dec. 4 in the Ute Natatorium.

Kim Peterson

The swim team practices Dec. 4 in anticipation of its first home meet of the season this Friday. The Swimmin’ Utes will face Wyoming at 5 p.m.

Kim Peterson

A member of the swim team practices his backstroke in the natatorium at practice Dec. 4. The Swimmin’ Utes have two meets this weekend.