AZUSA, Calif.-- On Wednesday the NAIA’s 4th ranked Azusa pacific competes in its 4th and final NAIA National Championship meet, looking to improve off a program-best 5th place finish last year.
The Cougars, led by NAIA Swimmer of the Month (January) Tink Gibb and a deep pool of talented swimmers no doubt have the ability to finish in the top-3, something that has been a point of focus throughout the season.
“With swimming, everything is geared towards the national meet...it’s our main focus,” said first year head coach Timothy Kyle. “We do our taper down at the end of the season to make sure everyone’s well-rested and ready to go. Now the girls are just ready to see all of their hard work payoff.”
But that isn’t to say Azusa Pacific hasn’t posted a successful season. The Cougars went 3-0 in dual (and double-dual) meets this season, and cruised to wins over Biola twice. They also registered a third place finish at the Concordia Invitational, and fourth at the Cal Poly Shootout. And if the team wants to continue its success, it’ll have to start with the sprinters.
Gibb and Quinn Robertson have each recorded NAIA top-10 times in both the 50 and 100 free, while the Cougars’ 200 and 400 free relays each rank 3rd nationally.
“All great teams are all built around sprinters. Quinn and Tink are our two fastest girls on the team. They’re huge, they’re a big part of what we do. Without them we wouldn’t be the team that we are,” said Kyle. “That’s where we’ll probably score the most points (sprint events), our sprint relays are ranked the highest.”
And while sprinters like Angela Kanigowski and Jamie Lofland, who will both be competing in the 50 free, 100 free, and free relays, are important pieces to the team’s championship puzzle, the Cougars’ talent is far from limited to freestyle events.
Senior Malerie Morgan has posted the 9th best time in the country in the 200 back (2:10.37) and ranks in the top-20 in the 100 back (1:01.52), while Simone Garcia has a top-10 time in the 200 breast (2:28.61) and is in the top-20 in the 200 and 400 IM. Cameron Hagen has come on strong in her fist year and will contend for all-American honors in the 100 breast and 200 breast as she ranks in the top-10 in both events.
Azusa Pacific’s depth extends to the distance competition where freshman Victoria Hodge and Stacy Wong race in the 1650 free. In the 100 butterfly Gibb, whose time of 58.19 ranks 6th in the NAIA, and Kaitlyn Lee each will swim for the Cougars.
On the boards Kassandra Duncan will dive in the 1-meter and 3-meter competition. Last season she placed 4th in the 1-meter and 5th in the 3-meter.
“It’s always exciting to be at a meet at this level. There’s great competition this year,” said Kyle. “I think going into the first day there’s always a bit of anxiety. But now everyone’s ready to go.”
Azusa Pacific, which has qualified 16 swimmers in 43 events this year, opens things up with diving on Wednesday before the meet really takes off with the finals events starting at 6 p.m. (CDT) n Thursday.
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