Jumping In: Swim and Dive teams look toward the NCAA Championships


Hansen Hasenberg, Writer

UWF swim and dive is coming off a first-place finish at New South Intercollegiate Swim Conference (NSISC) championship for the second in a row.

The next step the Argos will take is the NCAA championships that start tomorrow, March 16 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Five UWF swimmers and five divers qualified for the NCAA championships.

The five swimmers are Ester Rizzetto, Morgan Ayers, Yael Danieli, Stefanie Markwardt, Brooke Dorr. Katelyn Balent is an alternate.

Rizzetto won high point swimmer of the meet at the NSISC for the second year in a row. She finished four events at NSISC in first place. At the 2020 championships, she was named to the CSCAA All America first team in the 100 free and 200 IM. She also received All America honorable mention in some categories.

At this year’s championships in Birmingham, Rizzetto will compete in the 200 IM, 50 free, 200 free and 100 free.

Yael Danieli also won high point swimmer of the meet at the NSISC, finishing first in four events. 

She will compete in the 1000 and 1650 free in Birmingham. In 2020, she was named CSCAA All America for the 1650 free.

According to Swim Coach Phil Kraus, Danieli and Rizzetto are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Danieli is all about distance and Rizetto is more about speed. 

Both are unreplaceable leaders on the swim team.

Morgan Ayers will be competing in the NCAA Championships for the third time. She will compete in the 100 breaststroke.

Ayers was named to the CSCAA All America team during the 2020 season for the 100 breaststroke. 

Stefanie Markwardt, who was a CSCAA honorable mention in two events at the 2020 Championships, will compete in the 100 butterfly. Brooke Dorr will also compete in the 100 butterfly. 

To be successful at the upcoming meet, according to Coach Kraus, its important that the swimmers come prepared. That means staying in top shape, while also getting rest. 

“The last meet was a couple of weeks ago and getting back in shape after that resting period is important”, Kraus said. “Sustaining is the key.”

The five divers are Kelsey DeJesus, Jesstina Farrell, Emilie Hunter, Michelle Meija, and Daniela Reyes.

Dejesus comes into the NCAA Championships as the leader of the Argos dive team, having earned the title of high point diver of the meet at the NSISC after finishing first in both the 1m and 3m dives. 

“In a time where we have had to deal with a variety of modifications,” Diving Coach Barbara Parker said, “[DeJesus] is really good at being calm and going with the flow.”

Another diver who has helped lead the team in the right direction is Jesstina Farrell.

Farrell will be making her third appearance at the NCAA Championships. She earned All-America honors for 3-meter diving in 2018.

Dani Reyes returns to the championships for the second time. She received first team All-America status for the 1-meter dive.

Emilie Hunter has qualified for the championships for the second year in a row. 

Michelle Meija, a freshman who came to UWF from Mexico, is making her debut in the championships.  Despite this being her debut, she is far from unprepared.

“As an age group diver, she traveled extensively to competitions,” Coach Parker said. “Those experiences are very helpful in the transition to collegiate diving.”

The success of the swimmers and divers has been despite the difficulties surrounding sports during the age of COVID-19.

For Coach Kraus, adaptability was the key.

“[The swimmers] are pretty resilient,” Kraus said. “They have had to deal with grades and sick family members and have to juggle a bunch of different things.”

According to Coach Kraus, the team had an average 3.81 Semester GPA. Quite the juggling act.

COVID’s impact on preparation has been significant too, but it has not been all bad.

Due to COVID-19, the team had to wait longer to travel for meets. According to Coach Parker, this meant that they were able to focus more on the skills necessary to make successful dives.

“By the time we were able to travel,” Coach Parker said, “we were well prepared and just had to focus on being comfortable around other divers.”

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic and all that has come with it, the swim and dive team is focused on having success in Birmingham.

“If they believe in their training and what they have already achieved,” Coach Parker said. “They will be more successful than they imagine is possible.”

The championship meet begins on March 16 at the Crossplex in Birmingham with the qualifier and the actual championship goes from March 17 to March 20.