Mean Green Preparing For Elite CSCAA National Invitational
North Texas Qualifies Eight Swimmers In 14 Events
DENTON - For the first time in program history, the North Texas swimming and diving team is sending representatives to the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) National Invitational, which takes place March 8-10 at Navy's Lejeune Hall in Annapolis, Md.
The meet is recognized as a secondary championship event for individuals who achieved B standards but were not selected for the NCAA Division I Championships, and includes 14 individual and five relay races.
"It means a lot because we get to show off our program on a big stage," Sienczyk said. "It's a big opportunity for us."
"It's really cool to get more racing experience and see what some of the best teams throw out there," Jensen said. "Getting to go out there against them should inspire and motivate us for next season."
While it's not the first time the program has sent student-athletes to a national meet of this caliber, the group is looking forward to having nearly a third of their roster on the trip, as opposed to a handful of representatives.
"I never thought I would be here when I first came to this team, and it's exciting to send such a big group of girls," Thurstin said.
"There were only four of us when we went to nationals last year, so to have twice that support this week will be really fun," Sienczyk said.
The team views qualifying such a large delegation for the CSCAA National Invitational as a validation that the program is heading in a positive direction under head coach Brittany Roth and assistant coach Rachel Friel.
“There's been a lot of changes, but they're good,” Buckley said. “Brittany is one of the smartest coaches I've known and she knows exactly how to train us. Rachel is there to support us and they make a great duo, plus they have the support of the athletic department, which is felt at this level."
Buckley, Kitching and Morris were among the first recruiting class after Roth joined the staff as an assistant coach in 2013-14. As they head to their final meet in a North Texas suit, it’s like a storybook ending for the senior class.
“I never thought I would make it to this meet, so finishing my career at it is a good way to end," Morris said.
“It’s really cool to have seen it all the way through,” Buckley added.
The team is coming off a third-straight fourth-place finish at the Conference USA Championships last week, making it to the podium with third-place finishes in the 400 freestyle relay and 400 medley relay. With their biggest meet to-date in the books, the swimmers headed to Annapolis feel like the pressure has been lifted.
“We train all season for that one meet and there's all this hype around it,” Jensen said. “It's a high-stress situation, so going into this event, we're going in with the same level of training but the pressure is removed. Now we can just race and have fun."
"You're not trying to score points and beat people in conference,” McGee said. “It’s more for us individually."
The relatively pressure-free environment will hopefully give student-athletes the edge they need to top some narrowly-missed school records at the conference championship. In her signature event, the 200 breaststroke, Kitching touched the wall just five-hundredths of a second slower than Krista Rossum’s record time of 2:12.57, and the 400 freestyle relay missed a program-best time by .17 seconds.
“I'm going to go in and give it my all," Kitching said.
"I think we all have it in us to go even faster and we know we have it in us to break the record,” said Whelan, who swam the third leg of the 400 free relay at conference. “I think the atmosphere and the fast teams will help."
From a stellar freshman to a pair of juniors eager to use the season as a spring board to their final year, the group gave various responses when asked to describe the season in one word.
“Amazing,” McGee said. “I came into college with a goal and this truly makes me feel like I accomplished it.”
“Rolling,” Thurstin said. “Each meet we picked up momentum and got progressively better as a team.”
“Challenging,” Whelan said. “This season has been demanding for us as a team, but we've pushed through every obstacle thrown our way and we're going to continue to do that and work hard to make each other proud."
Despite all the excitement leading up to this elite meet and the desire to see more records fall, the main goal of the group is to simply have fun and enjoy the experience.
"When we have fun, we race well, so hopefully that will lead to some fast swimming,” Buckley said.