Swim and dive close out eventful season

Caroline Kuczynski swims the butterfly in a meet against UA on Feb. 11. Kuczynski and the ASU women’s swim team finished a successful season with their highest finish at the NCAA championships since 2005. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

With milestone finishes by the women’s team at the NCAA championships in March, the ASU swim and dive program closed the 2011-12 season with optimism toward the future.

“We’re wiping out some of the records up on the board out there,” swim coach Dorsey Tierney-Walker said as she pointed to the oversized record board at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Complex. “We’ve made huge strides in shifting our focus to competing at the NCAA championships. That was one of our big goals this year, and from that standpoint, (we were) very successful.

“I’d like to see our women progress (with) some of our younger kids — our freshmen and sophomore student athletes. That’s going to be a big focus in the spring and the summer and moving forward in the next year.”

The No. 21 women’s team ended the year with a 12th place finish at NCAAs, the Sun Devils’ highest since 2005. Seniors Rebecca Ejdervik, Kelli Kyle, juniors Caroline Kuczynski, Shannon Landgrebe, Cassie Morrice, Mattie Kukors and sophomore Tristin Baxter all ended their seasons as All-America athletes.

Ejdervik capped off her collegiate career with a third-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke in her third appearance at the NCAA championships. The Swedish Olympian also won her third consecutive Pac-12 title in the same event.

The season also saw a dramatic comeback from Baxter, who sat out the team’s first two meets of the year because of a broken leg. The distance swimmer recovered from her injury and collected a series of first-place finishes throughout the dual-meet season. Baxter then closed the season with a silver medal in the 1650-meter freestyle at the Pac-12 championships and placed eighth in the same event at the NCAAs.

“After coming back from injury first semester, it’s a testament to her character,” Tierney-Walker said. “Tristin, in many ways, did a nice job of moving to the next level.”

The men’s team concluded their season with a seventh-place finish at the Pac-12 championships, but did not record a team win in the dual-meet season. Tierney-Walker said she was very impressed with sophomore Dan Jurgs and junior JH Vivadelli’s improvements throughout the entire season. Although Tierney-Walker remained positive about the progress during the year, she still expects better from her athletes.

“Our men still have a long way to go,” the third-year ASU coach said. “I would say we made improvements this season, but not to the level I’m looking for and anyone is looking for. I think we have every opportunity to develop championship athletes and a championship program. We have a great group of athletes to work with that are dedicated, and we as a staff need to really look at the progression we’re giving these guys and ask ourselves really what do we need to do to get to the next level. We have a lot to do from this moment on.”

In diving, all three seniors finished the 2011-12 season with All-America honors. Senior Elina Eggers became the Pac-12 champion in the 10-meter platform event and finished sixth in the 3-meter springboard and eighth on the platform. Senior Cameron Bradshaw finished third in the 1-meter with senior Constantin Blaha following behind.

The team initially started with six divers, but the Sun Devils lost sophomore Hailey Casper and freshman Sydney Czaus to season-ending injuries. Dive coach Mark Bradshaw hopes both women can replace the season with a redshirt. Freshman Kevin Olson finished his first season at ASU with a 15th-place finish on the 3-meter at the Zone E Championships.

“We were a small group to begin with, and when you only have essentially one (woman) left, your opportunities to score points with the team have diminished a little bit,” Mark Bradshaw said. “It was a good year overall, and it’s going to be sad seeing those three seniors go, but they all had great careers.”

Reach the reporter at jnacion@asu.edu

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