Cougars Head to Oklahoma City for Inaugural Mountain West Conference Championships

The men's and women's swimming and diving teams are headed to Oklahoma City, Okla., for the first Mountain West Conference swimming and diving championships. The four-day event begins Wednesday with relays and concludes Saturday.

Regular Season Wrap-Up

The men finished 5-3 on the season, while the women compiled a 6-1 record. Both teams' sole conference losses came in the second dual meet of the season, against UNLV. Since then, the men dropped consecutive meets to Washington before joining the women in finishing the season without another loss.

Mountain West Conference Honors

BYU athletes were honored 15 times this season as the Mountain West Conference Swimmer and Diver of the Week, more than any other conference opponents. All-American diver Rachelle Smith Kunkel led the way with five such honors, while male swimmer and All-American Arunas Savickas was just behind with four. Freshman Scott Randall received weekly diving honors twice, while Amy Lueken, Gary Tan, Devan Porter and Aaron Russell were each named once.

BYU Compared to the Rest of the Conference

Junior All-American Arunas Savickas is a leading candidate to repeat as conference Swimmer of the Year, as he holds conference-best times in three events headed into this week's championships. Freshman Gary Tan also is the top swimmer in the 200 IM, and hold runner-up times behind Savickas in the 100 and 200 back. Divers Aaron Russell, Scott Randall and Viraj Patil are also among the top conference performers for the Cougars. For the women, junior Jennifer Tasker owns the second-best time in the 100 breast. Swimmers Hanalee Hawkins and Heidi Lietz each have third-place times in freestyle events, while Amy Lueken, Mary Duffin and Melissa Belliston are contenders with top-five conference times. Diver Rachelle Kunkel is the leading scorer in both women's events, the 1-meter and 3-meter boards.

Overall Team Competition

For the men, the race for the conference crown will likely be between BYU and UNLV. Leading the Rebels is freestyler Jacint Simon, who will go head-to-head with All-American and Olympian Arunas Savickas from BYU. Savickas finished the regular season just under four-tenths of a second faster than Simon in the 200 free, while Simon holds the conference-best time of the season in the 500 free ahead of Savickas. Some of the fastest and closest races of the week will come down to these two athletes. On the women's side, it will be a battle between UNLV, Colorado State and BYU, with any of those three teams capable of grabbing the inaugural Mountain West Conference title. UNLV does not carry any divers, so the pressure will be on for the swimmers to make up the points in the individual and relay races. Colorado State fell to BYU in the regular season, but boasts swimmers who hold conference-best times in eight events.

Last Year's Conference Championships

Several of last year's winning athletes return this season. Junior All-American Arunas Savickas followed up Freshman of the Year honors by winning three events at last year's WAC Championships, more than any other swimmer, and claiming the 1999 Swimmer of the Year title. Senior Devan Porter captured the 3-meter diving event, while teammateViraj Patil was the record-setting platform champion. While no women swimmers won an individual race, Jennifer Tasker surprised the competition by placing fourth in the 200 breast and Rachelle Smith went on to garner All-American accolades at the 1999 NCAA Championships.

NCAA Qualifications

BYU's swimmers will have the opportunity to qualify either automatically or provisionally for the NCAA Championships in March with their times at the Mountain West Conference championships. Savickas and freshman Gary Tan have excellent chances at qualifying for the men, while junior Jennifer Tasker could get a provisional mark for the women. Senior sprinter Hanalee Hawkins could also potentially qualify. Divers have the chance to qualify at the Zone E Qualifying Meet the second week in March.

Results

Mountain West Conference Swimming and Diving Championship results will be available daily, from Wednesday to Saturday, on the official BYU athletics website, www.byucougars.com.