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Feb. 25, 2013
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With just a few days left before the Nittany Lion men's swimmers and divers pack their bags and travel to Bloomington, Ind. for the 2013 Big Ten Championships, the athletes are ready to put their hard work and their past six months of training to the test.
Consistently ranked by the College Swimming Coaches Association throughout the course of the season, the Nittany Lions have climbed as high as 17th in the nation. The rankings released on Feb. 20 show the swimmers and divers ranked 24th. They have used this recognition as motivation throughout the season and as a confidence builder for the team as a whole.
"We've been more confident going into this Big Tens compared to last year because we had such a good season and have been in the rankings," Andrew Sideras said. "We have a lot of new people contributing this year, so the atmosphere is a lot more positive and we're all motivated to reach our goals."
Penn State added 11 new freshmen to the roster this year and they have all made a difference to the team atmosphere in their own way. As a young team, they will have to follow the lead of the upperclassmen to be successful in their first college championship meet.
"The freshmen have made a pretty big impact especially on the attitude of the team," captain Chris Cipolla said. "They're awesome guys that have made this whole year fun. They've worked hard all season and most of them have stepped up in dual meets. They're going to be the one's who have to step up in the spots that we need them to in order to make a difference in how we finish at Big Tens."
With two championship meets already behind him, Cipolla now understands what it's going to take to improve from their sixth place finish last year. Leading the way in the 200 Breastroke and 400 Individual Medley, Cipolla added points to the overall team score last year by getting into the scoring heats in prelims.
"The key is going to be swimming fast in the morning and getting it done then," Cipolla said. "Getting those top eight spots and stepping up in the morning is where the points come from. Other than that we'll just have to stay relaxed and keep doing what we've been doing with a positive mindset and go from there. We've worked really hard, it's just a matter of time before it pays off."
Of the newcomers, Will Lee has been a part of the class to help change the direction of the team. With his first Big Tens coming up, Lee has relied on the experience from the upperclassmen to help him prepare for the week of racing to come.
"The older guys just have more experience than us," Lee said. "They've been to Big Tens before and they've told us how everything works. They've also stressed that it doesn't matter how we feel during the meet physically, we can still have great swims."
One aspect that Lee has noticed this past week is a change in the team's frame of mind going into this meet compared to dual meets. This past week with the women away at their own Big Ten Conference meet, the men had a chance to get excited for fast swimming and bond even more.
"There's a whole different mentality going into this meet and over the past week compared to any dual meet," Lee said. "We've been hyped up for this meet throughout the whole year and it has been our focus since August. We just swim through dual meets, get our times and keep training. But this is much bigger. Everyone's excited and getting anxious to leave."
Sean Grier has been a standout performer all year rewriting several of the team records as well as McCoy Natatorium pool records. According to collegeswimming.com, Grier is currently ranked fourth in the nation in the 100 Backstroke and 13th in the 100 Butterfly. He will be one to watch throughout the weekend as a huge contributor for the Nittany Lions.
Additionally, Grier has been a part of the 200 and 400 Medley relays along with James Wilson and Nate Savoy. These events will be crucial to the team since they add double points to the team score. The 400 Medley relay stands 14th nationally while the 200 Medley relay is ranked 16th. Ohio State and Michigan are the only Big Ten Schools ahead of Penn State.
Championship action for the men starts on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Bloomington, Ind. Competition continues through Saturday night in the Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center where the Nittany Lions look to end one of their best seasons yet on a high note.