Swimming & diving preview: Rams to battle conference in championship

The Rams head to Oklahoma City, Okla., for their championships which begin Wednesday

The Rams head to Oklahoma City, Okla., for their championships which begin Wednesday

Feb. 20, 2012

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By Sarah Thomsen
Athletic Media Relations

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - While the Rams haven't competed since Feb. 4, Moby Pool has not been quiet as the swimming and diving team eagerly preps for the four-day MW championships in Oklahoma City, Okla., at the Oklahoma City Community College Aquatic Center. Competition begins with 3-meter diving Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. MT and runs through Saturday.

With four straight dual-meet losses, the Rams (5-7 overall, 2-3 Mountain West) began the season without any obvious progress. Head Coach Chris Woodard said he was waiting for everything to "click." And through the season, the senior class has found its stride and the athletes have united to challenge each other on toward a higher level of performance.

"It was tough for me to take a losing season," Head Coach Chris Woodard said. "Certainly not the way I want to start my coaching career. But to watch the growth of the team from our first meet until now has been a privilege. They've not only matured, but they've come together."

It is not only where they have come from, but where they are headed. With one school record already broken this season, the Rams look to set more school records and increase their point total from the 2011 championships.

"I think they have more confidence in their abilities," Woodard said. "I'm pretty sure that they feel stronger. They've been able to contend with the disappointment of losses and able to rebound and still swim their races. I think they're going into conference with just a really positive attitude."

The Rams walk into Oklahoma led by a powerful group of seniors. The seniors, Kristen Gropp, Jennifer Lamb, Fran Mathias, Kim Schemahorn and Shayna Solomon have come together, from being overlooked to being the greatest assets of the team.

"If you look at them, in some sense, they're a bit of a bunch of castsoffs," Woodard said. "Neither Kim nor Franny were very highly recruited and have shown development every year. They have come to a point where they can really be relied on for first and second places in dual meets in their events. Jennifer has been strong after her transfer season from UCLA, but she has branched out in different events and shown real toughness in multiple events. And Kristin Gropp has just been battling through injuries. So to still be swimming at this level, I think that's impressive."

Mathias will take on the fly events, which take place Friday and Saturday.

"I'm excited and I know everyone else is, too," Mathias said. "We can only expect good things and I'm just excited to see what happens."

Although the team has a strong foundation of athletes, its conference competition is no less daunting.

The Rams' main competition will be San Diego State and Boise State. CSU fell to both teams in the dual-meet season, but its losses were much closer than previous seasons. With an undefeated record, the Rams were not the only team to lose to SDSU (16-0 overall, 4-0 MW). The Broncos' record (9-2 overall, 2-0 MW) is just as impressive.

On boards the Rams size up as one of the top teams in the conference. Junior Madeline Mitchell currently holds the second-highest score in platform diving in the conference, and senior Shayna Solomon has been relied on throughout the season for consistently high-scoring dives.

"We have some good competition down there," diving coach Kevin Witt said. "I think overall our team matches up really well with the majority of our conference. We've got people who are good at different things. It will be a chance for everybody to step up in different areas and contribute where they are strong."

Solomon leads this season with the team's highest scores in the 1- and 3-meter diving events, which will take place Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. 

"I feel really good," Solomon said. "Since it's my last one I can go for it and make sure I have no regrets coming out of it."

All-around the team is eagerly anticipating the championships.

"This is the best time of the year," Woodard said. "I'm excited to see what they can do."

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