Lobos Ready To Make Waves At MWC Championships
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  02/21/2005
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Feb. 21, 2005

MWC CHAMPIONSHIPS PREVIEW: Oklahoma City Community College will host the 2005 Mountain West Conference Swimming & Diving Championships February 23-26 at the Aquatic Center in Oklahoma City, Okla. This will mark the sixth time in conference history that the event will be held at the Aquatic Center.

New Mexico (2-5) enter the Championships with the sixth best record in the conference. In last year's Championships, the Lobos placed fifth out of eighth with 376 points.

Finals action begins Wednesday night at 6 p.m. with the 200-yard medley relay, one-meter springboard and 800-yard freestyle relay. Last year, the Lobos finished seventh in the medley and fifth in the free relays. On the board, then-junior Becca Barras won gold with a score of 282.15 while teammate Tracey Berghian took the silver.

This year, the Lobos return three of the four competitors to make up the relays while Barras returns on the boards. The top time in the 200-yard medley relay this year is 1:49.64, the eighth best in the conference, turned in by senior Aimee Dunavant, sophomore Jenna Syverson and freshmen Tori Clarridge and Rachel Evans. Even more impressive, the best time for the Lobos in the 800-yard free relay is 7:38.77, the third best in the MWC, achieved by Clarridge, juniors Kelsey Leckovic and Robyn Miller and sophomore Jen Hale. UNM will have an excellent chance of repeating last year's one-two finish on the one-meter as Barras (311.10) and freshman Carrie Quinn (286.20) have the best and third best scores, respectively, in the conference this season.

On Thursday, the finals for the 500-yard free, 200-yard individual medley, 50-yard free, three-meter board and 200-yard free relay are scheduled. In the 500-yard free last year, Miller and then-junior Nicole Overeem both scored as Miller finished seventh and Overeem 16th. The 200-yard IM saw two Lobos score in Corinne Ellis (15th) and Jessica Brown (16th) but neither returned this year. Leckovic and Syverson had the best finishes in the 50-yard free but just missed the finals, placing 17th and 18th, respectively. The 200-yard free relay team of Syverson, Hale, Leckovic and then-freshman Kelly Soldow took seventh. On the three-meter board, Berghian and Barras traded places to solidify gold and silver, respectively.

Senior Nicole Overeem will try win another medal in the 1,650-yard free.

This year, day two could be even more rewarding. In the 500-yard free, Miller has the fifth best time in the conference (4:58.03) and the sixth best time in the 200-yard IM (2:08.06). Junior Whitney Thomson will also be a major factor in the 200-yard IM with her best time being 2:12.04 this year. The Lobos should definitely score some points in the 50-yard free as Syverson and Clarridge both rank in the top-10 in the MWC in that event. Syverson recorded a personal-best 24.28 in the final meet of the season. Clarridge is just tenths of a second behind Syverson with her season's-best time of 24.40. Clarridge, Leckovic, Miller and Syverson have recorded the best 200-yard free relay time at 1:37.40, good enough for a seventh place ranking in the MWC. Barras and Quinn could also finish one-two on the three-meter as they already sit in those positions, respectively, in the conference. Barras scored 506.20 points at the Air Force Invitational while Quinn tallied 469.85 points at the same invite. Don't count out sophomore Joanna Garcia on the three-meter. Garcia has the seventh best score in the conference this season with 336.00 points.

Friday starts off with a bang for New Mexico in arguably its best chance for a gold medal in a swimming event. First will be the 400-yard IM followed by the 100-yard butterfly, 200-yard free, 100-yard breaststroke, 100-yard backstroke and 400-yard medley relay.

Last year Miller raced to the bronze in the 400-yard IM and this year has the second best time in the conference. Miller has turned in a time of 4:27.14, just a few seconds off of UNLV's Julie Babin, last year's 400-yard IM winner.

Senior Aimee Dunavant may be the Lobos' best chance of medaling in the 100-yard fly.

Dunavant will likely score in the 100-yard fly for UNM, after all she did finish in the top-16 the last three consecutive years with her best finish coming last year, earning fifth. This year she has the best time in the event on the team and the 10th best time in the MWC.

Miller could grab another medal in the 200-yard free. She has the second best time in the conference (1:52.03), but might not swim the event if she competes in the 400-yard IM earlier. If that is the case, Leckovic, Hale and Soldow are all contenders who have excellent times in the 200-yard free this year and just missed reaching the finals at last year's championships.

With only freshmen representing UNM in the breast this year, the other schools will not be expecting them to score. But don't count out Evans or Andrea Zarins or Ashley LaBree. Evans holds the top time in the event this year at 1:08.21, which is also the 18th best in the MWC. Zarins and LaBree are right behind with times of 1:10.47 and 1:10.75, respectively. What these times do not show however, is that all three of these women have bettered their times in each event so they could make a big splash in the placings at the championships.

The final individual event of Friday night's finals is the 100-yard back. Clarridge holds the third best time in the conference (57.97) going into the competition. Thomson, who finished 16th in the event last year, has also improved and will look for a better finish this year.

Freshman Rachel Evans is one of the phenom freshmen on the Lobo roster.

Friday night concludes with the 400-yard medley relay. UNM finished 7th in 2004 and return all but one of that team's members. This year, Dunavant, Evans, Syverson and Thomson have the best time for New Mexico, 4:02.28, the 11th best in the conference.

The final day begins with the 1,650-yard free. Overeem, whose best finish in this event at the Championships was third as a freshman, has placed in the top-16 every year. Junior Megan Verbrugge also has an excellent chance to score this year after just missing out in 2004 with a 20th-place finish. Verbrugge has the best time, 17:56.82 in the 1,650-yard free this year.

Points in the 200-yard back could come from one of two Lobos this year. Thomson, who finish ninth in the event last year, has the best time this year at 2:09.26, the 17th best in the conference. LaBree is just tenths of a second behind with her season's-best time of 2:09.86, the 18th best in the MWC.

Clarridge and Leckovic should lead the hunt for the Lobos in the 100-yard free. Clarridge holds the MWC's fourth best time this season at 52.15. Leckovic's top time this year is 53.26 and she just fell short of a medal last year, placing sixth.

Zarins and Evans will be called upon in the 200-yard breast for New Mexico. Zarins has the better time of the two, 2:27.53, good enough for a 17th-place ranking in the conference. Evans is not far behind as her best time recorded this year is 2:29.94.

Junior Robyn Miller is one of the most talented swimmers to compete in the program's history.

Miller and Dunavant could both medal in the 200-yard fly. Miller did medal last year, taking silver, and Dunavant was just shy, finishing eighth. This year, Miller's 2:05.91 is the second best time in the MWC.

With a fifth place finish in the 400-yard free relay last year, the Lobos enter this year with the fourth best time in the conference. Clarridge, Leckovic, Miller and Syverson recorded a time of 3:32.96 at the Speedo Cup Invitational in November.

Finally, Barras will aim to repeat as the MWC champion on the platform. Quinn has an excellent chance to grab silver, entering the competition with the fourth best score this season.

TOTAL DOMINATION: New Mexico senior Becca Barras was named Mountain West Conference Women's Swimmer and Diver of the Week on Feb. 9. It is the fourth consecutive recognition of the season and 16th of her career.

Senior Becca Barras has dominated the MWC all season and could sweep the boards at the Championships.

Barras, a native of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, swept all three diving events at last weekend's Air Force Diving Invitational. She turned in conference season-best point totals of 506.20 in the 3-meter dive and 366.85 in the platform dive, while tallying a score of 284.45 in the 1-meter. Barras now holds the MWC's top point total in all three diving events on the season.

FINAL FAREWELL: Coaching pool-side has become a way of life for the UNM swimming and diving team's biggest fish. A fixture in the local and regional swimming community, head coach Bill Spahn is entering his 37th year of coaching, and his 24th season as the mentor of the New Mexico swim program. He coached the Lobos to a Western Athletic Conference Championship in 1986, making the University of New Mexico one of only four teams in the WAC to win a championship in the last 14 years. Spahn also led the Lobos to runner-up status in 1990 and 1993. His ability to consistently produce teams that were able to compete for a championship resulted in four WAC Coach-of-the-Year honors for Spahn.

Head coach Bill Spahn is hanging up his stopwatch at the end of the season.

During Spahn's tenure, including his stint as men's coach, a Lobo swimmer has been crowned WAC or Mountain West Conference champion 54 times. This total does not include the women's titles in the High Country Athletic Conference, UNM's conference affiliation before the WAC and MWC started women's swimming. Lobo swimmers have earned All-American status under Spahn's guidance 12 times. Last season, five Lobo swimmers and two divers were named to All-MWC teams for their efforts at the conference championships in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Shortly before the start of the 2004-05 season, Spahn announced this season would be his last. Spahn has said he would like his final season to be about having fun and being the best team they can be.