By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With the opportunity to race in one of the fastest conference meets in the country, the Nittany Lion swimmers and divers took advantage of the atmosphere seeing their fastest races and best dives.
Although the men and the women train and compete together during the regular season, when it comes time for Big Tens, the men traveled to Bloomington, Ind. while the women went to Minneapolis, Minn. The men, who competed this past weekend, finished eighth in a conference known for its depth in every event.
Junior Sean Grier was not one to disappoint this championship season. He consistently put up top times all throughout the year and continued to do so in Bloomington. On Friday night, Grier took on the challenge of a tough racing schedule where he competed in two events fairly close together. During the finals session, he added a relay to his list of races making a statement in three events over just a couple of hours.
"The double on Friday was pretty tough with that relay at night," Grier said. "Three events in one session is a lot on the body, but I think having the experience under my belt now in my third year has a lot to do with being able to handle it. I practice doing it a lot throughout the season and the coaches did a really good job helping me know how to take care of my body in between the races."
Rewriting his own records set earlier this year, Grier continued to lower his marks in the 100 Butterfly and 100 Backstroke. Not only did he place third with a new team record, but he also set a new pool record in the morning in the 100 Butterfly. Moving even higher up, Grier placed second in the 100 Backstroke minutes later, breaking yet another school record.
"I was really happy with my performances of the day," Grier said. "Knowing you lowered some records is always a good feeling, plus I moved up a good amount in placing compared to last year. I was pretty happy knowing I was able to help the team out with some points."
Another key swimmer for the Nittany Lions was backstroke specialist Nate Savoy. He finished third in the 200 Backstroke barely missing the school record and he finished fifth in the 100 Backstroke, just a few tenths behind Grier.
The week before the men competed, the women swam to a third place finish in the Big Ten conference. This marks the highest finish for the Nittany Lions since 2009.
Contributing to moving up in the rankings this year compared to their fifth-place finish last year were swimmers Paige Whitmire and Alyson Ackman who both brought home gold in one of their individual events.
Senior Paige Whitmire, who has competed in the 100 Freestyle at the Big Ten Championships for the past 4 years, reached her ultimate goal of winning an event. After finishing second in the 50 Freestyle on the second night, Whitmire was determined to make it to the top of the podium.
"My number one goal was to win the 50 and when that didn't happen I just had to use it as motivation to win another race instead," Whitmire said. "When I got third in the 100 Back it was even more motivation for my last chance in the 100 Free, then during the race I just kept thinking about how it felt getting second and third and how badly I wanted to win."
A career of hard work and reaching all of her goals came down to her last individual race. Whitmire was hesitant to look at the scoreboard immediately after her race, but when she did, she was in shock.
"When I hit the wall it took me a second to look at the clock because I was nervous I didn't win, but I heard the announcer say my name and that I had won so I looked and saw the 'one' next to my name and just couldn't believe it," Whitmire said. "The race was painful but worth it to have won my last individual race."
Few freshmen made as big of an impact for their respected teams as Alyson Ackman made for the Nittany Lions. Wasting no time, Ackman won the 500 Freestyle during her first Big Tens appearance and added 20 points to the overall score for the women.
With a few weeks to recover and get back into training, the Nittany Lions who qualify will head out to NCAA Championships to finish out a program-changing season for Penn State. The NCAA Championships will start on March 21 for the women and March 28 for the men where the swimmers will race against the very best across the nation.
Swimming and Diving Teams Close Out Big Ten Championships
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
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