|Senior Rachel Mandel is one of the Scots' key veterans in the breaststroke.|
The College of Wooster women's swimming and diving team's across-the-board balance enabled the Fighting Scots to make up the ground needed for its first top-three finish in the North Coast Athletic Conference since 2012 last year. While 16th-year head coach Rob Harrington feels his squad has the potential to be third again come the conference championships, it'll take some time to mold the 18-scorer contingent together.
"This year is very interesting," summed up Harrington. "We have six women (- juniors Sara Fikse, Megan Gross, Alison Hsu, Avery Pearson, Cleo Potter, and Sarah Stutler -) abroad, and two contributors from last year's conference team who are out of the water due to illness or injury. At least to start, the complexion of the team is very different. I have every faith that we will be a very different team come the end of the season. You might not see us at top form until the conference championships."
One thing that won't be different is the projection of senior Emma Fikse anchoring the team. The freestyle specialist is a proven championship-caliber performer evidenced by six career individual championship heat finishes at one of NCAA Div. III's preeminent meets, and last year, Fikse earned all-conference laurels for the first time on the Scots' 400 freestyle relay.
Behind Fikse, Wooster's rapid improvements in the backstroke and breaststroke led to the Scots making up significant ground in the NCAC.
Now-sophomores Michelle Sayre and Hannah Langer splashed onto the scene by winning the consolation final (10th-place overall) of the 100 and 200 backstrokes at last year's NCAC Championships, and Langer earned all-conference honors in the 200 medley relay in what marked the Scots' first all-conference relay since 2012.
Wooster's backstrokers will get an additional boost come January when Hsu rejoins the team.
While Wooster has two veteran breaststrokers in seniors Allison Clough and Rachel Mandel, Harrington's turned to converting swimmers to the breaststroke events to bolster his roster, and that resulted in sophomore Brooke Brown qualifying for the championship final (top-nine) in the 100 breaststroke at last year's NCAC Championships.
"Brooke had not swum the breaststroke much prior to getting to Wooster," shared Harrington. "She wound up leading our sprint breaststrokers last year. We did some work in the offseason through recruitment to try to strengthen our ranks there too."
Wooster's butterfly specialists will have to make up for the key graduation loss of Maggie Layde, but if last year is any indication, the Scots have plenty of firepower here. Sophomore Anne Bowers and senior Kalla Sturonas joined Layde in the championship final of the 200-yard race at last winter's NCAC Championships, and the Scots also return sophomores Leah Jorn, Larissa Lamarca, and Heidi Likins and senior Annabelle Hopkins as key contributors.
In the freestyle events, Harrington has plenty of talent to back up Fikse. The Scots' sprinters group consists of Gross, Hopkins, and Pearson, while Sara Fikse, junior Nell Kacmarek, and sophomores Lexi Riley-DiPaolo, Kera Sells, and Paige Sogandares anchor the distance group. Junior Mady Ferguson could expand her role into more of the distance events, per Harrington.
Wooster's lineup should get a major point boost come January with the return of Potter, the team's lone diver, from studying abroad.
One other area to keep an eye on come conference time is the Scots' relays. Harrington feels the Scots might be able to put together a medley relay fast enough to get a national cut, especially with the addition of first-year Molly Likins – the Michigan High School Athletic Association Div. III 100-yard breaststroke champion.
Wooster's season opens at the Kenyon Relays on Oct. 20. The Scots host three dual meets this season, and the program's annual Wooster Invitational is set to take place Nov. 29 through Dec. 1.