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2013-14 Liberty Swimming & Diving Outlook
The Liberty swimming & diving team enters the year with a talent-laden roster, and appears poised to challenge for the program's first Coastal Collegiate Swimming Association (CCSA) championship in 2013-14.
During each of the last two seasons, the Lady Flames have placed second at the CCSA Championships to five-time champion Florida Gulf Coast. The two will likely battle again for the 2014 title.
For the first time in the program's four-year history, Liberty swimming & diving will feature four full classes of recruited student-athletes. Conference champions Brye Ravettine, Bethany Kennon (formerly Wakeley) and Emilie Kaufman highlight the team's senior class.
Fourth-year head coach Jake Shellenberger looks for continued growth from the Lady Flames' program. "I'm looking for a transformation from the idea or the mindset that we are new, and starting to transition into the mindset that we are here," Shellenberger said. "What's the next step after that? That's going on to be a top 25 program, continuing to excel at the national level in the summer, and at the NCAA meet and so forth."
The Lady Flames have added five freshman this year, in addition to transfers Ginny Grams (Florida State/Daytona State) and Kristin VanDeventer (Virginia). In freshman Courtney Fox, Liberty also has its first diver in program history.
Last season, Liberty received its first national ranking, finishing the season rated No. 37 in the Endless Pools/CollegeSwimming.com Top 25. The Lady Flames went 14-2 last season, including 9-1 in CCSA dual meets.
At the 2013 CCSA Championships, Liberty picked up its second-straight runner-up finish. During the meet, Liberty had six total event victories (four individual, two relays) and 20 podium finishes (16 individual, four relays). The Lady Flames set five conference records, five meet records and 13 program records. Liberty had eight NCAA B cuts and U.S. Open cuts by individuals, and one NCAA B cut in a relay.
"This team wants to win the conference. They finished second place to Florida Gulf Coast the previous two years, and they are getting tired of that," Shellenberger added. "They have a goal that they want to win the meet. That's fantastic. It's always better when it comes from the student-athletes and not from the coaching staff."
Sophomore Jess Reinhardt was named the 2013 CCSA Freshman of the Meet, after winning both the 100 and 200 fly in conference-record times. She then went on to represent Liberty in the 100 fly at the 2013 NCAA Division I Women's Swimming & Diving Championships.
This year's schedule will pit the Lady Flames against teams from the ACC (North Carolina, Virginia Tech), SEC (Vanderbilt) and Big Ten (Illinois, Michigan State). The Lady Flames will also contest dual meets against strong Commonwealth opponents James Madison and Richmond, and conference rival Florida Gulf Coast.
"We're going out and swimming some of these teams that are pretty good. It will be good for our women to see North Carolina in person. It will be good for our women to see Virginia Tech again. It will be good for our women to go up and swim against some Big Ten teams that we have a chance to beat, and we'll be in the meet."
An event-by-event preview follows.
The Lady Flames fielded the top sprint group in the conference last season, with Brye Ravettine (22.78), Cori Gary (22.96) and Meghan Babcock (22.81) all recording NCAA B cuts in the 50 free. The trio went 2-3-4 in the conference 50 free final, and they were joined by Chloe Thomas in the top eight of the 100 free final.
Ravettine, the 2012 CCSA Swimmer of the Meet and Freshman of the Meet, was a 2012 All-America honorable mention in the 50 free. She also swam a B cut time of 49.80 to take second in the 100 free at last year's conference meet.
Returnees Jess Reinhardt, Ranndi Grubbs, Kendall Hough and Sarah McCorkle all scored points in sprint free races during the 2013 CCSA Championships.
Freshman Amber Slack and junior Mallorie Chambers may also swim in the sprints this season.
Cori Gary returns as the program record holder in the 200 free, clocking 1:50.73 to place third in the 2013 CCSA finals. Meghan Babcock and Bethany Kennon tied for ninth at the conference meet last season.
Newcomer Ginny Grams brings an impressive resume with her to Liberty. Her ledger includes NJCAA national titles in the 200, 500 and 1,650 free for Daytona State in 2013 after spending 2012 at Florida State. Kristin VanDeventer, a transfer from Virginia, will also bring experience at the 200, 500 and mile as well.
Sophomore Kendall Hough and freshman Morgan Noonan are also expected to contribute to Liberty's mid-distance group in the 200 free.
Junior Emily Duff placed fourth in the 500 free A final at the 2013 conference meet, swimming 4:59.16, and sophomore Hannah Wakeley also scored, taking 14th place. Duff, along with Grams and VanDeventer, have all broken 5:00 for the 500 free.
Wakeley became Liberty's first-ever scorer in the 1,650 free, placing fourth in the 2013 CCSA final, clocking a program-record 17:12.07. Grams' lifetime-best 1,650 free time of 16:45.43 gives Liberty another strong contender in the mile, while VanDeventer and freshman Heather McCorkel will also challenge for top-8 spots in the 1,650 free.
Liberty's backstroke group continued its strong performance in the pool last season. Brye Ravettine and Emily Duff took second and third in the 100 back at the conference meet for the second year in a row. Kendall Hough followed in fifth place last year, followed by Chloe Thomas in 11th.
Duff met the NCAA B cut and US Open cut while placing second in the 200 back in a program-record 1:58.30. Kendall Hough placed fifth for the 200 backstroke, posting a season-best 2:01.73. Junior Jennifer Garzinski swam a lifetime-best 2:07.06 to place 18th overall.
The Lady Flames add three freshmen to their stable of backstrokers, in Victoria Tschoke, Natalie Chambers and Amber Slack for 2013-14.
Liberty returns the top two butterfly finishers from last year's CCSA meet. Jess Reinhardt, the returning CCSA Freshman of the Meet, won both the 100 and 200 fly in conference-record times, before qualifying for the 2013 NCAA Championships. She holds the current CCSA records in the 100 fly (52.87) and 200 fly (2:00.41). Bethany Kennon won the CCSA 100 fly in 2012, before placing second to Reinhardt in both fly events last season.
Sophomore Ranndi Grubbs earned 13th-place finishes in both the 100 and 200 fly at the CCSA Championships, while Hannah Wakeley placed ninth in the 200 fly.
Additional Lady Flames who may compete in the fly this season are Emilie Kaufman, Ginny Grams, Natalie Chambers and Sarah Kendrick.
Liberty returns CCSA record-holder Emilie Kaufman in the 100 breaststroke. Kaufman's record 1:01.04 swim in prelims met the NCAA B standard, while she placed second overall in finals. The senior added a conference title in the 200 breast, in an NCAA B cut and program-record time of 2:15.00.
Juniors Jennifer Garzinski and Mallorie Chambers also competed in the breaststroke at last year's CCSA Championships, while freshman Morgan Noonan brings top-eight equivalent times in both the 100 and 200 breast.
Emilie Kaufman is Liberty's top returner in the individual medleys. She placed third at the CCSA Championships in the 200 IM, clocking a program-record time of 2:03.98.
Emily Duff holds the second-fastest 400 IM time in program history, but the Lady Flames had no entries in the 400 IM last season.
This year, the Lady Flames will look to a combination of Kaufman, Duff, Hannah Wakeley, Ranndi Grubbs, plus newcomers Morgan Noonan and Victoria Tschoke, to compete in the IM. Tschoke has recorded 200 IM times which would have scored a top-eight placing at last year's conference meet.
Courtney Fox will be Liberty's first-ever diver. Due to a lack of diving facilities, until the new Liberty pool is completed, Fox will only be able to compete in one-meter diving. A sophomore from Nazareth, Pa., Fox placed 15th at the Pennsylvania State Championships as a senior in high school.
"We have a diver this year. We're renting a one-meter board, and we're diving," Shellenberger stated. "That'll help us tremendously as far as starting to grow the diving program in anticipation of a new pool being built. Diving's going to be a big part of our program, once we build the facility. Courtney's going to be awesome for us."
The Lady Flames' talent and depth gives them many options to put fast relays in the pool. Liberty won both the 200 free relay (1:30.01) and 400 free relay (3:20.23) at the 2013 CCSA Championships, setting conference records in both, while clocking an NCAA B cut in the 200 free relay.
Liberty also took second in the 800 free relay and 400 medley relay last season, and should challenge Florida Gulf Coast for the title in the 200 medley relay as well this year.
All of Liberty's freestylers return from last year's CCSA-champion relay teams, and each member of the team's 800 free relay and 400 medley relay are back in 2013-14.
The Lady Flames' newcomers will help bolster an already-strong set of championship-contending relays.