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Feb. 11, 2013
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In a sport with predominately individual events, the impact that relays make at Big Tens becomes a crucial component that not only adds points to the overall swimming and diving team score but also creates an atmosphere that no other events can create.
Big Tens opens the championship meet season on Feb. 20 for the women and Feb. 27 for the men with the 200 Medley Relay and the 800 Freestyle Relay. Winning an individual event gives the team 20 points, however winning a relay gives them 40 points. With this doubled score, taking the top spot on the podium after a relay can be the difference in placing first out of all the Big Ten teams or coming in much further down the rankings.
Head coach John Hargis says that relays are extremely important because they are double the points, they help gain momentum, and they build the teams' confidence.
"Especially at Big Tens when we do the two on the Wednesday night, it just sets the tone and sets the mood of the meet," Hargis said. "If we start off with two great relays that night fast swims are just going to come. The team walking in the next day is going to be walking in a little more confident. Double points in those five events are huge."
With only four spots on each of the five relays, competition between the swimmers is always high and goes on all through out the year. These events make swimming into more of a team sport where they rely on each other to perform their very best.
"The kids want to be on these relays," Hargis said. "In our sport that is the pure definition of team. You've got your four best athletes up there depending on the relay. They're swimming for the 19 others on the side cheering them on. I think they take pride in that. It's a competition all year when they're fighting for that relay spot."
Making the decision of who goes on what relay is not an easy task. Hargis takes into account how the swimmers have trained, opinions from the other coaches, and how they have been competing throughout the weekend.
"I rely heavily on the assistant coaches to help me decide on who goes on what relay and we think about how they've trained up until that point," Hargis said. "The first night you haven't seen anyone swim yet but as the meet goes on you can see how certain swimmers are competing and make changes based on that. You always want to have the best 4 swimmers on the relays. I just have to be confident with whatever decision I make."
Last year at Big Tens, the Nittany Lions had a huge showing with the women where they tied for first in the 400 Freestyle Relay, won the 400 Medley Relay, and finished fourth in the 200 Medley Relay. The men finished high in the rankings as well in the 200 and 400 Medley Relay.
Junior Mackenzie Powers took part in the 200 and 400 Medley Relay at Big Tens last year swimming the 50 and 100 Butterfly legs. With her experience, she has learned that the first couple of relay events helps determine the mood and helps build confidence for the next few days.
"It was really exciting to be a part of the relays last year," Powers said. "We always talk about starting the meet off with a bang and relays help us do that. They also set the tone for the meet."
With doubled points on the line, the amount of pressure goes up for the swimmers. Junior Shane Austin uses that pressure as positive energy to do well in those events.
"Relays to me are more important than individual events because there are three other guys counting on you for that event as well as knowing it's double points at Big Tens," Austin said. "The added pressure for that really gets me going for those races and I feel faster on relays than individual events."
The swimmers who are relay contenders will spend the next week perfecting their take-offs and exchanges to ensure they are ready for the exciting events at Big Tens. The five relays provide an opportunity for the Nittany Lions to make their mark in the conference and gain points to raise their overall place throughout the weekend.