By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With excitement running through every swimmer and diver, the Nittany Lions have the opportunity to exhibit all of the hard work they've put in over the past six months as they travel to Minneapolis Minn. to kick off the 2013 Big Ten Championships meet.
The Nittany Lions have fought their way up the rankings and have put together one of the best teams that Penn State has ever seen. Currently ranked 24th in the nation according to the College Swimming Coaches Association of America, the swimmers and divers are eager to prove themselves in the Big Ten conference.
"The rankings just show us that we can do it," Gabi Shishkoff said. "We're already near the top so we just need to keep doing what we've been doing. It's made us really excited because we're not used to seeing that. We still feel like other teams are underestimating us but we find it really motivating to prove ourselves."
Going into the meet, the Nittany Lions are seeing their best rankings for each event on paper. The psych sheet, which shows a complete list of every event and the times that the swimmers have gone so far this season ranking from fastest to slowest, helps build the swimmers confidence. However captain Amy Modglin says it's important to keep in mind that the swimmers can't focus too much on it.
"It's definitely motivation to see your rankings," Modglin said. "But I'm a firm believer that a psych sheet is just a piece of paper and you can't get too caught up in it. You should definitely use it as motivation to see how well of a season you've had and how you're stacking up going into the meet, but it's just a piece of paper. The places we get at the meet are what's really going to matter."
Of the 18 swimming events at Big Tens, there is at least one swimmer in the top eight for 17 of those events. Opening the meet up on Wednesday night, the swimmers are seeded second in the 200 Medley Relay and first in the 800 Freestyle Relay. Throughout the rest of the meet, they are seeded third in the 200 Freestyle Relay, second in the 400 Medley Relay, and to close out the meet on Saturday, they are ranked first in the 400 Freestyle Relay.
Senior and captain Paige Whitmire has been a huge contributor to the team in the sprint events and relays over her four years and will compete on several of the relays during the Big Tens Championships. With a raised amount of pressure, Whitmire says reminding her how many times she has raced through out her career helps her handle what's coming her way.
"Relays score double points than any other event so they are extra important, especially since we don't have extra points from diving," Whitmire said. "We need to do the best we can in relays to get every point possible. Staying calm is something I'm still working on but just remembering I've done this a million times and that there's no reason I can't do it again. Also thinking about how cool it would be to win gets me more excited than nervous."
Shishkoff, who is ranked first in the 400 Individual Medley, fourth in the 200 Individual Medley, and seventh in the 200 Fly, has similar feelings as Whitmire on how to stay calm during one of the most nerve-racking meets that these swimmers experience. She also uses the coaches' advice to keep everything in perspective.
"Lately I've tried to tell myself that it's just a race and I've done it so many times before," Shishkoff said. "The coaches keep telling us this is the easy part and this is the fun part so I've been trying to take that to heart and just do what I know how to do."
Figuring out how to handle pressure and compete in the moment is a huge accomplishment, but one of the hardest skills to learn, especially as a freshman. The upperclassmen have given them advice on how to handle a championship atmosphere and have been impressed with how they have done so far this season. Modglin says she has been reminding the freshman it's just about racing.
"The freshman have been doing extremely well," Modglin said. "One of the things we've been telling them is it's not about how you feel - it's all about getting your hand on the wall first. I know how easy it is to get caught up in how you feel but that's the beauty of Big Tens. It's about getting out there and just racing other teams. It's like a big dual meet but you're rested and suited up."
Since Modglin's freshman year the team has drastically moved up in the rankings. They finished seventh in the Big Tens in 2010 and now she can say she has been part of building a team that could finish in the top three. She says a major difference between now and the past four years is the team dynamics.
"Every year is different because you have different groups of people with different personalities making the team dynamics different," Modglin said. "Being a senior now and seeing the team grow over the past four years, I can say this is the team that has the most promise for winning a championship. A lot of that comes from everyone stepping up and the freshman really buying into the program. I think if everyone is on the same page then we'll have a shot at being a championship team. I truly believe that everyone is and that everyone's working towards the same goals."
As a junior, Shishkoff has spent three years with these seniors and has been motivated by them sharing their past experiences.
"Obviously, a lot of them are big point scorers," Shishkoff said. "I think that their freshman year didn't go as well as they had hoped and that's made them really motivated to make sure that won't happen again. They've told us what needs to be different and pretty much everyone has listened."
With only a few days left until show time, the team's moral has been extremely high and mostly filled with excitement.
"It's been the best I've ever seen it of my four years of being on this team," Whitmire said. "Everyone's really excited and it's exciting to see everyone has the same goals and is on the same page. Everyone's pretty nervous but really psyched up and ready to be there."
Follow along with the results as the Nittany Lions begin their journey to close out one of their best seasons yet. Action begins at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday Feb. 20 at the University Aquatic Center in Minneapolis, Minn.
Women's Swimming and Diving Eager for Big Ten Championships
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
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