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Plunging into History: 2010-11 Women's Swimming Outlook
As the 2010-11 Liberty women's swimming team heads into its first-ever competitive season at the NCAA Division I level, Head Coach Jake Shellenberger knows exactly what he's focused on.
"The focus with the schedule is the conference meet," Shellenberger said. "That will determine where we place overall. Everything we do from now until then, including all dual meets, will be preparation for swimming fast at that meet. That is the main focus. "
With six dual meets scheduled, plus the Radford Invitational, which will follow the same format as the CCSA Conference Championships, the Liberty swimmers will have many opportunities to get into the groove of competition before the "big one" in February.
The Lady Flames are the newest member of the Coastal Collegiate Swimming Association (CCSA), a conference made up of 13 programs, including Big South members Radford, Gardner-Webb and VMI.
Shellenberger joined the athletics department in July 2009, and spent his first year on the job recruiting and working with the Liberty club swimming team. This past summer, he was joined by assistant coach Jessica Barnes, who came to Liberty after a coaching stint at Rutgers.
Both Shellenberger and Barnes are excited to get the ball rolling on the 2010-11 competitive season, with the program's historic first-ever swim meet scheduled for Oct. 2 at the LaHaye Student Center.
After the season-opening meet against Campbell at home on Oct. 2, the Lady Flames will hit the road the following weekend, competing against Radford and North Carolina A&T in Radford, Va.
Liberty is back at home on Nov. 6, welcoming Gardner-Webb and Howard to Lynchburg for the second and final home meet of the season.
Nov. 18-20 marks the Radford Invitational, which Shellenberger says is good practice for his athletes, as this meet will be run in the same format as the conference championships. This three-day meet includes preliminary rounds in the mornings, and finals in the evening.
"The magic happens in the morning," commented Shellenberger. "That will be a good practice meet for us to get into the habit of doing a prelims-finals meet. From a team standpoint, I think we have a chance to do pretty well there."
The next meet for Liberty will be a quad-dual meet in Fort Myers, Fla., on Jan. 8., 2011. The Lady Flames will join Radford, Georgia Southern and Florida Gulf Coast for an outdoor meet, which will be a change of pace for the Liberty athletes, who train indoors.
Next will be a quick trip to Lexington, Va., for a meet on VMI's campus with the Keydets and Mount St. Mary's. The Davidson Duals follows on Jan. 22, 2011, in Davidson, N.C.
And finally, the CCSA Championships will be held Feb. 17-19 in Athens, Ga.
The Lady Flames by Specialty
Shellenberger will look to Ginny Mitchell, Elise Girani and Sarah Kendrick to contribute in the longer freestyle events. Mitchell, a freshman, and Girani, a senior, will swim the 500 free and the 1000 free in dual meets and the mile in the conference meet, while Kendrick will swim the 500 free and the 1000 free in dual meets as well.
"Each of them will need to improve quite a bit to be able to score in the conference," noted Shellenberger. "We are going to need them to step up and score."
Brye Ravettine is the big gun that Shellenberger will look to for points in sprint events. The sophomore transfer from Penn State had an Olympic Trials qualifying time in 2008, and will swim the 50 free, 100 free and 200 free, along with the 100 backstroke. "We're really looking for her to do well in the 50 free and 100 free, and win a lot of events there," Shellenberger said.
Wakeley, Romkes and Amber Kerico will each compete in butterfly events this season.
"Lindsey Romkes is our fastest butterflyer," Shellberger said. "She can score in the conference meet, and her times coming into the year are already top-eight times."
Shellenberger pointed out that Wakeley's high school times also would score points in a lot of different events in the CCSA. She also swims the individual medley and relays, so Shellenberger must decide which events she can score the most points in at the conference meet. "She is so versatile," he said.
"She'll swim everything at dual meets, but we won't know until January what events she'll swim at the conference meet."
Shellenberger's top breaststroker is Melissa Watson, a freshman from Friendswood, Texas. She comes in with CCSA top-eight caliber times in the 100 breast and the 200 breast, and Shellenberger notes her natural talent in the pool.
Also swimming breaststroke events will be sophomore Rachel Walten, along with Kerico.
Shellenberger calls Ravettine and Dani Fletcher his top backstrokers. Ravettine will swim the 100 back along with her freestyle events, while Fletcher will compete in the 100 back and 200 back. She could also compete in some freestyle events.
Also swimming backstroke events will be juniors Karis Kemper and Hannah Yacynych.
Kerico, Watson and Wakeley are expected to be the prime competitors representing Liberty in the individual medley events, which include one leg of each stroke. "All three of them are well-rounded and versatile athletes," commented Shellenberger. "Each one can swim the 200 IM and the 400 IM, so we'll be calling upon them to do that throughout the year."
While there are five relays contested at the conference meet, only two relays take place at dual meets.
Shellenberger expects his 200 free relay team to be one of the top finishers at the conference meet. Romkes and Ravettine will swim that relay, and the other two spots are currently up for grabs.
"Ravettine comes in as one of the top freestylers in the 50 free in the conference," Shellenberger said. "I think that will be one of our better relays."
Ravettine and Romkes will also be on the 400 free relay team, with several other team members competing for the final two spots. The 800 free relay is more of a wild card at this point, and since each leg is a 200, Shellenberger hopes to have other team members step up for that event.
The 200 medley is another strong relay for the Lady Flames, as Shellenberger will look to Watson and Ravettine to lead that relay team. "Watson will have one of the best breaststroke splits and Ravettine will have one of the best freestyle splits, so we need a backstroker and a butterflyer who will swim fast as well, and I think that will be another good relay for us," noted Shellenberger.
The same combination of Watson and Ravettine will compete in the 400 medley, with the other two spots still open.
"All of those relays should be top-eight in scoring," Shellenberger said. "I would expect for a few of them to maybe even compete for top five, which would be fantastic."
Overall, Shellenberger has high hopes for the squad, the first athletes who will represent Liberty in the pool. "I believe we can be in the top eight in our conference," Shellenberger said. "That's what we're shooting for, and I really think we can do it."