March 19, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.- For Alabama, this entire season of renewal has been pointing to this weekend when seven swimmers and one diver will be on hand for the 2014 NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championships, being held Thursday through Saturday in Minneapolis, Minn.
Alabama is coming off its best meet in recent memory at last month's Southeastern Conference Championships, where the Tide women moved up two places from the year before, but more importantly, nearly its entire roster improved significantly from their previous personal bests. The Tide's resurgence includes nine school records this season alone with a total of 11 Alabama marks sitting in the hands of current members of the UA roster.
"Having a competition like we had at SECs, where everything came together and we had spectacular meet, gives us a lot of confidence, excitement and enthusiasm," UA head coach Dennis Pursleysaid. "There's a temptation to be satisfied with that, but we've done everything we can, mentally and physically, to try avoiding falling in that trap. Hopefully we can show up at the NCAAs with the kind of hunger we need in order to hopefully surpass or, at least, equal those SEC performances."
This week is what all the Tide's effort throughout the season has been pointing to, and it's not enough for the women who will compete this weekend just to be on deck at these championships, they all want to continue to get better.
"I hope we all can kind of relax and have fun this week," junior captain Kaylin Burchellsaid. "I think we're at our best when we just go out and have fun. We've put in the work and now we want to go out there and see how much faster we can go."
Burchell and fellow junior Kristel Vourna are both making their third trip to the NCAA Championships. Vourna, who redshirted last season, scored in the NCAA 100 butterfly race in 2012, earning honorable mention All-American honors along the way. Burchell, the school record holder in the 100 breaststroke, will focus on the breaststroke events while Vourna will focus on the 100 butterfly, one of two events in which she holds the school record with the 50 freestyle being the other. Both women will also see relay duty. Freshman Bridget Bloodalso earned individual swims in the breaststroke events.
Paige McCleary, the lone senior among the Tide's NCAA contingent, will compete in all three diving events, the 1-meter and 3-meter springboard and the platform. The 2011 SEC Freshman Diver of the Year, McCleary took third place off the 3-meter board at the NCAA Zone B Championships to earn her first trip to the NCAA Championships. Alabama set school records in all three relays they will compete in at the NCAA Championships during last month's SEC Championships.
In addition to the four student-athletes that will compete in individual events, the Tide has four swimmers in Minneapolis who will see relay duty. Senior Stephanie Kinsey will swim on the 200 and 400 medley relays as well as the 200 freestyle relays. Sophomore Justine Panian will swim the 200 medley and freestyle relays while her classmate Emma Saunders will swim the 400 medley relay. Freshman Bailey Scottrounds out the Tide's NCAA roster with a spot on the 200 freestyle relay.
Alabama starts competition on Thursday with the 200 freestyle relay, 200 individual medley, 50 freestyle, 1-meter spring board and 400 medley relay. Follow Alabama swimming and diving on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at AlabamaSwimDive.