KEENE, N.H. -- Keene State senior Jillian Whitaker, a member of the Keene State College swim team and a student teacher at the school, gave her students the good news that she had qualified for the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships.
"They’ve been waiting since my last meet to find out," said Whitaker, a senior education major from Gilford, N.H. "They were really excited to know."
Whitaker will be joined by four Owl men’s swimmers at the championships that take place March 21-24th at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI). Junior Austin Harris (Essex Junction, Vt.), and sophomores Jared Hyde (Tolland, Conn.), James Black (Lynn, Mass.) and Drew Ledwith (Keene, N.H.) will also make the trip. "All great racers go to Indianapolis," said KSC Coach Jack Fabian.
Whitaker, who went to the nationals the past two years as a member of the Owls’ relay team, qualified for the first time in an individual event. She is seeded sixth in the 100 breast with a time of 1:03.98 and will also have an opportunity to swim in the 200 breast race. "I’m very excited, said Whitaker, who earned All-America as a member of KSC’s 200 medley relay team the past two years. "This is what I’ve been hoping to accomplish the past four years. "I’m just really relieved because I know all the training I’ve been doing has paid off."
"No one has worked harder for this
As far as expectations are concerned, Whitaker says she’d like to earn All-American. "I’d like to get on the podium, but honestly the whole experience and knowing that I made it by myself feels really good. I’m just going to try to swim my best," she said.
Ledwith, who will be making his second trip to the nationals, will be swimming in three individual events and at least two relays. He goes into the meet ranked third in the 500 (4:28.20) and 1,650 freestyle (15:37.13) and seeded 11th in the 400 I.M (3:59.16). "It definitely helps that I went last year. I’m not going to have as many nerves," said Ledwith, who swam to All-American honors with his third place finish in the 1,650 last year. "I’d like to improve on what I did last year."
Ledwith will join Black, Hyde and Harris on the 400 and 800 free relay teams. Both Owl relays are seeded 14th going into the championships. "We lost two of our fastest swimmers (Cody Larrimore and Connor Pennoyer) from last year’s relay, so getting a relay back to the championships is an amazing accomplishment," said Fabian. "Austin was the captain and he just made up his mind they were going. The guys trained like crazy."
"We’ve definitely been training a lot harder than were last year," said Hyde, who will also get a chance to race in the 100 free and 200 IM. "Our minds were set on going to nationals and we accomplished that through all of the hard work we put in during the season."
Both Hyde and Harris were members of the Owls’ 200 free relay team that placed 10th at last year’s national meet, securing the first championship points for a KSC men’s team since 1976.
Black, who broke his wrist last year and was unable to compete at the championships, is looking forward to his first trip to the meet. "Everyone has told me that it’s unlike any meet you’ve been to before," said Black, who will also swim in the 100 free race. "The pool and equipment are nice and top level."
This will be the fifth straight year that Keene State has qualified swimmers for the NCAA Division III championships. The Owl women have posted consecutive top-20 finishes, placing 17th last season with 55 points. The KSC men had its first All-America since 1976 at last year’s national meet." The program has definitely come along way," said Hyde. "We’re really excited to go out to the championships and see what we can do."