Daily Egyptian

Saluki women kept swimming until end

By Aaron Graff

Saluki women’s swimming and diving finished the season with some hardware, but not the Missouri Valley Conference Championship the team wanted.

SIU hosted the MVC Swimming and Diving Women’s Championships during the weekend, and finished in third place behind Illinois State University and Missouri State University. Missouri State won the tournament for the seventh straight season with 945.5 team points.

Despite the third-place finish, the Salukis had two athletes capture four individual championship.

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Senior Pamela Benitez won the 200 and 1650 freestyle races. She finished nearly 10 seconds ahead of Missouri State’s Heather Snyder in the 1650 freestyle. Benitez said in the mile swim, swimmers have to set their pace early to do well.

“You either be smart and start building up before, or you get stuck in the back,” Benitez said.

Benitez said her time would probably not qualify for the national tournament and she plans to take a break from swimming.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” she said. “If I miss it, I’ll keep going.”

Sophomore Kaixuan “Sherry” Zhang won the 1-meter and 3-meter dives. Her 3-meter final dive score of 439.40 broke her own pool, team, and MVC Championship record she set in the preliminaries. Zhang broke the school 3-meter record three times this season.

Zhang also broke the conference record for the 1-meter dive with a score of 346.25.

“I don’t think about my result before I dive,” Zhang said.

Zhang was named the MVC Diver of the Year, and wanted to thank her teammates and coach, Joy Zhao, for all of their help.

“We always encourage each other before we dive,” Zhang said. “We always say, ‘Don’t be nervous, just do your best.'”

Zhao was named the MVC Diving Coach of the Year. The Salukis had three of the top four divers in each of the events. Senior Esther Chen placed second in the 3-meter and third in the 1-meter, and senior Brittany Weigel placed fourth in each event.

Zhao said she wanted to thank the athletic department for better training equipment. She said Zhang has the potential to break records every season, and could find herself in the national tournament.

“Next year is going to be better than this year,” Zhao said.

Coach Rick Walker said he would have liked to finish higher as a team, but he is not going to grieve about it.

“I’m so proud of the effort everybody put in,” Walker said. “This could have been a lot worse. We came all the way back to just under 40 points after being down close to 120.”

The Salukis have 10 seniors on the women’s roster. Since it is not probable any of them qualified for the national tournament, this was likely their last collegiate meet.

“I watch them come in little girls, and I watch them leave here really strong confident young women,” Walker said.

Walker said the senior leadership helped recruit a lot of next year’s freshmen.

“The class we have coming in next year is due part to the leadership this group leaving has left behind.”

The Salukis had a total of five All-Conference athletes and 10 honorable mentions.

Freshman Sarah James was the only SIU freshman named to the All-Conference team. James finished the 200 backstroke with a time of 2:02.34, which was good for third place. She also placed fifth in the 100 backstroke.

“We really wanted to be at least second place,” James said. “Illinois State and Missouri State both brought their A game this year and I am very proud of our team for pushing so far all the way to the finish.”

Senior Isabela Castro finished the 200 butterfly in second. She was also named to the All-Conference team.

The Saluki men will compete in the Mid-American Conference Championship meet March 6-8 in Buffalo, N.Y.

Aaron Graff can be contacted at [email protected], @Aarongraff_DE or 536-3311 ext. 269

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