The Liberty swimming team aims for further success during the 2011-12 campaign, which starts Saturday at Marshall.
The Liberty swimming team enters the 2011-12 season with high expectations, seeking to provide a successful sequel to last year's inaugural campaign. The Lady Flames' roster is comprised of 11 freshmen and six sophomores. The sophomores are taking a major leadership role on this year's team, as noted by second-year head coach Jake Shellenberger. "One thing that's really exciting is that we have a sophomore class that knows what to expect," Shellenberger said. "The sophomores know what (assistant coach) Jessica (Barnes) and I expect from the team, and they can educate the freshmen on how we want things done." Liberty finished in the top half of the 13-team field at the 2011 CCSA Championships, placing sixth in its first-ever conference meet. This year's team aims to improve from its 2011 finish, setting the goal at being a top-three team in the 2012 CCSA Championships. Shellenberger says that the team's goal, set by the student-athletes, to make the top three will be attainable through a maximum effort. He sees the importance of building a culture of excellence that will help build Liberty swimming into a strong program for years to come. "I am expecting people to continue to stay dedicated to the program. I am more concerned, right now at least, with building that culture and keeping it running," Shellenberger said. "We are putting in place the foundation to build a program down the road." During Liberty's inaugural 2010-11 season, the Lady Flames went 7-9 in dual meets. Brye Ravettine was named Co-Freshman of the CCSA Meet, and was also tabbed a Mid-Major All-America honorable mention. Ravettine earned two individual medals at the CCSA Championships, while two Liberty relays medaled as well. One of the team's strengths, compared to last season, will be its depth. This year's squad is comprised of two classes of recruited student-athletes, allowing for more event specialization. This will aid the Lady Flames as they challenge the competition at the CCSA Championships. "We have a lot of people who are specializing, whereas last year everybody had to do a little bit of everything," Shellenberger added. "We have a chance to score probably 13 or 14 athletes at the meet. Last year we had seven student-athletes score points." An event by event preview follows.
Distance Free Sophomore Emily Mudd and freshman Emily Duff will likely compete in the 1,000 freestyle. Although Mudd and Duff will primarily focus on mid-distance events, they may be called upon to compete in distance freestyle. "Our distance is more of a mid-group that either goes up or down. With a small team of 17 athletes, you need to be well rounded," Shellenberger said. "You need to be able to move student-athletes around and swim a lot of different events." Erin Curry, a freshman, will see time in the longer swims as well. Sophomore Bethany Wakeley holds the program record in the 1,000 and 1,650 free, but will focus on different events this season.
Mid-Distance Free Wakeley is the top returning mid-distance swimmer, as she swam a program-record 5:01 in the 500 freestyle, finishing ninth at the 2011 CCSA Championships. She dropped her time by seven seconds from the time she joined the Lady Flames. Duff enters after swimming a 5:08 in the 500 freestyle prior to college. Mudd and Curry will also contest the 500 freestyle. Several athletes will compete in the 200 freestyle, leading to a strong 800 freestyle relay team.
Sprint Free Liberty is deepest in the sprint freestyle area, led by Ravettine, who finished in second place in both the 50 and 100 free at the 2011 CCSA Championships. Ravettine also came within 0.05 seconds of the 50 meter US Olympic Trials standard while swimming at the USA Swimming National Championships in August. Sarah McCorkle placed seventh in the 50 free at last year's conference meet, and is joined by freshmen Cori Gary, Chloe Thomas, and Marley Cripe, who all have posted top eight times prior to college. Meghan Babcock will provide depth in the sprint free. "The sprint freestyle is an area that we really recruited hard early on, and we feel we've got a lot of depth there," Shellenberger stated. "Brye doesn't have to carry the load, which is nice. We have some freshmen who I think are going to be pretty good."
Butterfly Wakeley holds program records in the 100 and 200 butterfly, and placed fourth in the 200 fly and eighth in 100 fly at the CCSA meet in February. Her 100 meter butterfly time is just 0.62 away from the Olympic Trials standard. Joining her will be Cripe and Rachel Nelson. Ravettine will also be an option at butterfly.
Breaststroke The Lady Flames will feature four athletes at breaststroke this season. Jennifer Garzinski and Mallorie Chambers will be Liberty's primary breaststroke specialists. Garzinski's times coming in are already comparable to the program records set last season. "We're young in the breaststroke area," Shellenberger said. "We also have two athletes, Emily Duff and Erin Curry, who can swim breaststroke, but more as part of their individual medley (IM)."
Backstroke Ravetttine posted the top backstroke times for the Lady Flames last season, leading off the 200 and 400 medley relays and swimming the 100 back. Duff brings a strong, top eight 200 backstroke time into the lineup. Margaret Riel, Cripe and Curry will also swim backstroke this season. "We have Emily Duff, a freshman, who is a great 200 backstroker. Brye is our top backstroker returning from last year," Shellenberger said. "The freshmen in that mid-group are really well-rounded."
Individual Medley Curry and Duff will serve as Liberty's primary competitors in the 200 and 400 individual medley events. Both athletes bring impressive IM times with them from high school and club swimming. Garzinski is also an option to swim the IM for the Lady Flames. Wakeley swam the IM last season, but will focus on other events this season. "Emily Duff and Erin Curry are going to swim the IM for us this year," Shellenberger said. "We greatly improved in the IM, whereas last year no one really specialized in the IM."
Relays Liberty's relays excelled last season, with a pair of conference medal-winning relay teams and top-eight placings in the remaining five events. "We're really excited about our relays this year," Shellenberger added. "Our goal last year was to build relays, and build the team around those relays." With the influx of freshmen, Shellenberger sees the competition increasing for spots on the relay teams this season. The 200 free relay placed third at the CCSA Championships last season, swimming 1:34.64. Ravettine swam the leadoff leg during that program-record setting race. Shellenberger expects the 200 free relay to challenge for the conference title this season, with Florida Gulf Coast being a main competitor. Last season's 400 free relay also placed third at the conference meet, clocking 3:27.11 while also earning a USA Swimming Nationals qualifying standard. Three out of the four competitors on that relay (Ravettine, Wakeley, McCorkle) return to the roster. The 200 and 400 medley relays both placed fifth at the 2011 CCSA Championships, with Ravettine leading off with fast times in the backstroke and Wakeley swimming the third leg each time. More specialization will lead to stronger relays, according to Shellenberger. "The medleys will improve greatly. We have a little bit more depth; we have some better strokes," added Shellenberger. "We're going to be able to do a lot more in the medleys." Shellenberger sees the 800 free relay as the team with the most potential for improvement. Last season, the 800 free produced a seventh-place time at the conference meet. This year's relay will benefit from the increased depth in the freestyle area.
Schedule The Lady Flames will compete in a total of nine meets during their second season of intercollegiate competition, culminating in the CCSA Championships Feb. 16-18 in Athens, Ga. Liberty opens the campaign Oct. 22 at Marshall, taking on the Thundering Herd of Conference USA. The team will contest its only home meet of the season Oct. 28 at 5 p.m., when CCSA rival Radford visits the LaHaye Aquatics Center. Nov. 17-19 will see Liberty close out the fall portion of the schedule by returning to the Radford Invitational for the second year in a row. The 2012 side of the schedule begins with a trip to Fort Myers, Fla., where Liberty will compete in the Florida Gulf Coast Quad Meet Jan. 7. The Lady Flames will face host FGCU, North Dakota and Georgia Tech of the ACC in Fort Myers. The Lady Flames will compete Jan. 27 at Gardner-Webb, followed by an appearance in the Davidson Duals the next day as a final tune-up for the conference meet. Liberty is slated to swim in the CCSA Conference Championships Feb. 16-18, as the meet will once again be held on the campus of the University of Georgia. The team will look to improve on its sixth-place finish from 2011. "We are thrilled about returning to Athens, as it will allow all of the athletes in our conference the best possible chance to qualify for the 2012 NCAA Division I Championship Meet," Shellenberger said. "We finished sixth out of 13 teams last year and feel this year's schedule will help us improve on that finish."
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