(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
The Cougar women look for their fourth-straight Mountain West Conference title for the 2009-10 campaign and their ninth MWC title in 11 seasons.
“We are strong up and down the line, I don’t think we have any true weaknesses,” said BYU head coach Tim Powers. “We return a lot of our points from last year’s championship team. They have trained hard through the summer, so we are ready to compete. Our diving has also been enhanced with our newcomers there.”
After losing Leilani Roberts who set the new BYU and MWC record in the 100 free last year, MWC Championships second-place finisher Aleesha Miller will step up to lead the Cougars in the sprints.
Miller not only finished second in the 100 free at the MWCC last season, but she won the 50 free at the MWCC with a career-high of 22.66 and broke the BYU pool record in the same event with a time of 23.07.
Kirsty Ferrell will also be back to stack the sprinting events for the Cougars. She placed second in the 50 free and fifth in the 100 free at MWCC last season.
Coming onto the scene is an up-and-coming freestyle sprinter and breaststroker, freshman Taryn Toolson. Athleticism runs in the family as her father, Andy, played basketball for the Cougars and in the NBA.
“The most contested event will be the 500 free this year,” said Powers. “As we met with the conference meetings last week and people were saying who they brought in, I think it’s going to take times that were in the top-8 last year to get into the top-16 this year. So the gauntlet has been tossed down there, the challenge is out there – our kids know that and they are going to run with it.”
BYU’s top distance swimmer, Natasha Menezes will be back to break her own records in the 500 free and 1650 free. She broke both the MWC and BYU records in the 500 free in the MWCC with a time of 4:47.54 and broke the 1650 free MWC record with a time of 16:30.20, being crowned champion in both events. N. Menezes also placed second in the 200 free only .02 seconds behind UNLV’s Marva Harpak.
Amy Xu will be back to help in the distance freestyle this year. She was unable to compete in the second semester last year, but contributed significantly in the first three months of the season. Xu ranks fourth and fifth for BYU all-time records in the 1000 and 1650 free, respectively.
Utah transfer, Ali Siggard will also help out the Cougars with the distance events. Siggard ranked 18th in the 500 free in the conference for her early-season performance.
As for new recruits, Utah State Champion Alina Fong will do well to contribute to the depth of the distance team as well as Adelin Marsh.
Sophomore Candice Smith set two new BYU records in the backstroke events (100 back - 55.36, 200 back – 1:57.79) last season and will look to improve her times with more DI experience. Smith finished fourth in the 100 back and third in the 200 back at the MWCC last season.
Erin Pabst was not very healthy at the end of the 2008-09 season, but is looking healthier to look to contribute to the backstroke events this season.
Back from last year’s team are Kelsey Higginson and Marni Knoop. Higginson placed eighth in the 100 breast at MWCC, improving each time she swam.
Toolson comes on board to help the Cougars provide needed depth to the breaststroke events. She was a three-time Utah state champion in the 50 free, 100 breast and 200 free relay. Freshman Kassandra Bispo is another new recruit who comes from Modesto, Calif. Bispo was a high school All-American in the 100 breast.
Freshman Londyn Clawson out of Colo. will also be asked to represent the Cougars in the backstroke events. Clawson is a three-time 100 breast champion at the A-league and took second place at state in the 100 breast and broke the record in the 200 medley relay.
The butterfly events will be led by junior Rachel Grant, who was the only Cougar swimmer to make it to the NCAA Championships in the 2008-09 season. There she competed in the 400 IM and the 200 fly, placing 29th and 33rd, respectively. At the 2008-09 MWC Championships, Grant shattered three BYU records: the 200 fly (2:01.19), 200 IM (2:01.19) and 400 IM (4:13.38).
Ferrell placed fourth in the 100 fly at the MWCC last season and will be available to provide points to the team, as well as Sara Jayne Christiansen Baldwin who will compete in both the fly and IM events.
Freshman Meagan Stone is also coming in to help with the butterfly. She was a region champion in all the events she competed in all four years, as well as a state champion. Also freshman Melissa Manser who broke seven individual high school records will look to provide depth to the fly events.
The Cougars lost Leilani Roberts in the IM events. She placed sixth in the 200 IM last season at MWCC. Grant will continue to lead the IM team and Baldwin will also help out in the IM events. Grant finished second in the 400 IM and fourth in the 200 IM at MWCC while Baldwin finished seventh in the 200 IM.
The women’s relay teams had great success last year in breaking records in three different events at MWC Championships and will look to dominate all four relays this season. The 200 free relay team broke both the MWC and BYU all-time records with a time of 1:31.19. The 400 free relay team also broke both the MWC and BYU records with a time of 3:18.77. For each of those relay teams, BYU only lost one swimmer, Roberts. Finishing out the broken relay records for the women was the 400-medley relay team that set a new MWC mark with a time of 3:40.63 – the Cougars return all of the medley relay swimmers.
Although far ahead of the competition, one early start for the Cougars cost them the 800 free relay MWC Championship title last season. The Cougars will look to redeem themselves this season by sweeping all relays.
Diving will again be strong for the Cougars. 2008-09 Diver of the Year, Ava Jackman, returns to anchor the team with All-American Tawni Jones by her side. Jones was named to the All-America team after her performance at the NCAA Championships her sophomore year. During Jones’ junior year she fought injury the entire season, but is looking to return healthier than ever this year.
Jackman is the returning 1-meter MWC champion and she also placed second on the tower and fifth on the 3-meter board. Jones placed third on the 1-meter at MWCC last season as well as fourth on the 3-meter and third on the platform.
Freshmen Dayna Christensen, McKenna Cloward and Mariel Adams join the squad with impressive backgrounds. Christensen is a three-time Utah state champion and was named Utah state Athlete of the Year in 2009, she was also a three-time NISCA high school All-American. Cloward is a two-time Arizona state champion and finished second on the 1-meter and 3-meter boards at the AAU Nationals. Adams is her high school record holder for the 1-meter and 3-meter boards and placed third on the 1-meter at state her senior year.
“We may end up taking six divers for both the men and the women because they are that strong,” said Powers. “We are best in diving and we’re going to get as many points out of that as we can.”
After naming five different swimmers and divers as MWC Players of the Week last season, the Cougars will once again look to dominate the conference competition and place high in the various invitationals. “We are strong in all the events,” said Powers.