(Posted October 27, 2005)

Huntingdon, PA - The Juniata College women's swimming program has already taken big steps over the past few seasons, and has worked its way into the conversation as one of the top teams in the conference. With that critical step now out of the way, the task that falls on the Eagles now may be even more difficult. Juniata now looks to maintain its reputation as perennial conference power, while setting the goal of producing a legitimate threat for the conference championship. Neither of those tasks will prove to be easy, but with a veteran squad in place, the Eagles may have what it takes to continue stepping forward.

The past two seasons under the direction of Head Coach Brian McGrath have been two of the finest in the history of the Juniata swimming program. The Eagles have earned program-best third-place finishes at the last two conference championship meets, and have earned at least 10 dual-meet wins in those seasons, including a program-record 11 wins last season. The team took some hits through graduation but there are still plenty of accomplished swimmers in place who are capable of continuing Juniata's recent history of success when the team opens its season with a dual meet at Widener Oct. 29.

"I'm extremely excited about the group of swimmers we have coming back this season," McGrath explained. "While we've lost a little bit in terms of overall numbers I think we're stronger as a whole. Our roster is very talented from top to bottom, and is also very versatile. We should be able to score points in a lot of different ways and a lot of different events. Every one of our swimmers has the ability to score points at the conference meet, and many of them are capable of top-eight finishes, which should make us tough to deal with."

Juniata's 14-person roster is heavy on experience, and features competitors with specialties in nearly every different event. This should allow the Eagles to pile up points in a lot of different areas, a factor which should be critical in dual-meet settings. While Juniata's depth and versatility will be key components of the team, the Eagles will also need to some of the veterans to step into larger roles to combat some key losses from last season.

One returnee expected to do just that is junior Amy Sutherland (Norwich/Norwich, N.Y.) who will look to build on an outstanding sophomore campaign. Sutherland excels in the backstroke events, and after challenging for conference titles as a sophomore, could be primed for some gold-medal finishes at the conference meet this season.

The Eagles also should continue to be strong in the sprints and distance freestyle events. Senior Amy Hanson (Lancaster Catholic/Elizabethtown) has the ability to rank as one of the top sprinters in the conference in her final campaign, while fellow senior Kim Dierolf (Boyertown/Boyertown) has several of the top Juniata times in the distance swims during her career. She placed third in the mile at the conference championships last season, and is certainly a threat to earn an individual title in the event this season. Sutherland, Hanson and Dierolf are the three captains for the Eagles and will big components of the team's success.

While that core group of veterans will not surprise any Juniata opponent, McGrath notes that several of his other returnees are looking poised for breakouts seasons after a strong summer of work.

Juniors Rachel Almy (Foxcroft Academy/Charleston, Me.) and Collin Thompson (Altoona/Altoona) have each show a great deal of improvement and could see their work pay off this season. Almy is another strong distance swimmer for the Eagles, and her improvement could help the Eagles overwhelm opponents in distance events. Thompson will join Sutherland to form a strong one-two attack in the backstroke and will also be working as a sprinter this season after her summer workouts.

The Eagles also have a strong group of sophomores who are ready to build on promising freshmen seasons and make even bigger impacts this season. Second-year performers Carlie Zoubek (Paul IV/Burke, Va.), Jenny Bair (Huntingdon/Huntingdon), Samantha Monty (Plattsburgh/Plattsburgh, N.Y.) and Kasey Brough (Carlisle/Gardners) will all be factors for the Eagles this year. Monty is a versatile performer who will compete in the breaststroke, middle distance, and individual medley competitions. Brough placed third in the 500-freestyle at the MAC Championships last season and will remain a top threat in the middle distance events. Zoubek and Bair are two of the top breaststroke swimmers on the roster and expect to improve on freshmen seasons in which they recorded some of the top times in Juniata history in the breaststroke events. This group of sophomores has also brought a competitiveness and work ethic to the pool that has helped raise the level of the entire team.

"This team has really impressed me with the way they continue to try and improve," McGrath said. "As a group they work really hard, and they do a great job of motivating each other. They'll see how hard one person is working and they will all try and bring their work to that level."

Juniata also adds a pair of talented newcomers as freshman Kristin Musselman (Central Columbia/Bloomsburg) and sophomore Lindsee Ruggles (Central/East Freedom) could be key additions in their first seasons. Musselman was a top sprinter at the high school level and has the ability to be a top-level collegiate sprinter. Ruggles took two years away from swimming but has returned with a great deal of focus and will add depth to the sprinting and backstroke events.

The Eagles will continue to focus on seeing individual improvement from each performer and then expect that those improvements will lead to more team achievements. If the team reaches its goal of having one lifetime best swim from each swimmer on the roster, the squad might even exceed its lofty goals.

"Our goals will be the same this season as they have been each of the past two years," McGrath said. "We want each of our swimmers to have at least one lifetime best swim and we want to compete for the conference championship. This team has accomplished a lot over the past two years but there is still room to improve, and that's what we expect to do this year."


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Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.