Seniors to Lead Tigers at NCAA Meet in Auburn

The Auburn women's swimming and diving team hopes to finish the season with a strong performance at its home pool as the Tigers are hosts to the national championships.

Auburn, Ala.--Top women's college athletes from around the country are gathered at the James E. Martin Aquatics Center on the campus of Auburn University for three days of competition at the NCAA Women's Swimming & Diving Championships that run Thursday through Saturday.

On the eve of the competition, Auburn head coach Brett Hawke said he believes his team is prepared to perform well with 11 swimmers and two divers qualifying for the nationals.

Asked about how the Tigers have been performing in their workouts prior to the team's biggest college competition of the year, Hawke said, "Everything has been great. All the training has been done. There is nothing else we can do. Now it is just about performance. I think the home crowd advantage is going to help us in that aspect.

"A lot of alumni are coming back to support the girls and it is just a familiar environment so it kind of insures a level of calmness in an environment where we would normally be stressed at this time," Hawke said.

"The current girls understand who they are representing and the tradition of excellence they are carrying on," the coach added. "They are working hard for the future of the program as well."

The Auburn women have won five NCAA team titles. The most recent one was in 2007.

One of Auburn's swimmers who has contributed to the program's tradition is senior Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace, the defending NCAA champion in the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard freestyle. Later this year she will be in London competing in the 2012 Olympics.

Hawke said the senior, who is from The Bahamas, isn't big by sprinter's standards at just five-foot-six, but has left a big imprint in the swimming world as the fastest female swimmer on the collegiate scene.

"You see her walk around the deck and she's got her swag on and she plays it up pretty good," Hawke said. "A lot of the race is won before the start so if she can get in another girl's head she is going to try to do that for sure."

Auburn's coach said that Vanderpool-Wallace's athleticism and strength to power through the water are the keys to her success competing against other sprinters who are taller.

"She has got a great strength-to-body-weight ratio," Hawke said. "The girl can do 50 pullups if she wanted to. She is just a tremendous athlete and has a great gift as well."

Vanderpool-Wallace said she feels fortunate to train under the guidance of Hawke, who is considered one of the top sprint coaches in the world who was a former Olympic sprinter himself.

Hawke will also be the head coach for The Bahamas in London this summer where Vanderpool-Wallace will try to be the first person in the history of her country to reach the finals of an Olympic swimming event.

Vanderpool-Wallace was outstanding at the SEC Championships in February. Asked how she is swimming heading into the nationals, she said, "I feel great. Last week wasn't so good, but Brett changed a lot of stuff that was going on with me. I am feeling a lot better this week and I am ready to race."

The Auburn team is looking to improve on a disappointing showing at last year's nationals with the Tigers finishing in eighth place. Cal won the event and could repeat.

"I think Cal and Georgia are the two who are probably going to go head to head the whole weekend," said Hawke, when asked who he believes is the favorite to win the team title.

Hawke added that the key for the Tigers to have success is to focus on maximizing their performances and not worry about the team standings.

A competitor who could help the Tigers move up in the team standings is senior Vennie Dantin, who has the potential to score in all three diving events--the one-meter springboard competition, the three-meter springboard and the tower. Fellow senior Anna Aguero could also score diving points for the Tigers.

Vennie Dantin is an All-American diver for the Tigers.

Dantin, whose parents made the trip to Auburn from Texas to watch her final college competition, has won a lot of diving competitions for the Tigers, but has never finished first at the NCAA Championships.

"I am extremely happy with the way I have been diving and the practices have been good, but at the same time I don't want to get overly confident," the senior said. "I want to keep as even keel as possible."

Dantin said that she is "is really excited" that the NCAA meet is taking placing in her team's home pool, which she said should help the Tigers.

"When I was in high school coming to college I really didn't know what to expect of myself," she said. "I just kept saying I wanted to final at NCAAs. It happened my sophomore year, much quicker than I anticipated.

"Now, at this point, it is about bumping it up one level," the diver said." If I could win a championship, especially here at home my senior, I would be ecstatic. It couldn't get any better than that."

The other NCAA qualifiers for the Tigers include juniors Katie Gardocki, Becca Jones, Lauren Norberg and Hannah Riordan plus sophomores Emily Bos, Haley Krakoski and Olivia Scott along with freshmen Abby Duncan, Megan Fonteno and Sarah Peterson.

Preliminaries begin at 11 a.m. CDT each day of the competition with the ticket box office opening at 9:30 a.m. Seats are $10 daily for the prelims and $15 for the finals, which start at 7 p.m.

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