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April 7, 2009

With H2Okies at NCAA Championships, one era begins as another ends

By: Matt Kovatch

The last two weekends of March marked the end of the swimming and diving season for Virginia Tech, with the women competing March 19-21 and the men hitting the pool March 26-28, both on the campus of Texas A&M in College Station, Texas. The Hokies sent five women to the meet and finished in 34th place with 13.5 points, while two men accumulated four and a half points to finish 36th. Just days after wrapping up competition, head coach Ned Skinner sat down to discuss his team’s performance and the outlook of the 2009-10 campaign.

IHS: What was your overall impression of the women’s performance at the national meet?
NS: “I was really excited about the NCAA Championships for our women. We put so much into our season, and to be able to go to NCAAs and still have something left in the tank was great. All five women [seniors Sara Smith, Megan Newell and Jordan McHorney, sophomore Steffi Drechsel and freshman Erika Hajnal] who attended the national meet came home as honorable mention All-Americans – which, I guess, is the equivalent of being a second-team All-American in another sport. We were really proud of that. Each girl had goals of performing a little bit better, but all in all, we were so proud of what we accomplished – a 34th-place team finish is still very good.”

IHS: What were your thoughts on the final meet for Sara Smith, who placed 11th in the 50 freestyle and 20th in the 100 freestyle?
NS: “Sara Smith is arguably one of the top student-athletes in the history of our program – she was only equaled by Jessica Botzum. She was a hundredth of a second away from eighth in the 50 free prelims, which would’ve guaranteed her All-American status. That’s the closest margin of defeat you can have in swimming. It was just a little bad luck to be honest with you – she had a fine swim. She may have wanted a little bit more out of the final weekend, but when you’re a senior and it’s the last meet of your career, you’re just so proud of everything that you’ve done.”

IHS: In addition to Smith, two other seniors made up a big part of your successful relay team, which scored points by placing 15th in the 400 freestyle relay. Did you like how Megan Newell and Jordan McHorney ended their careers?
NS: “Megan was just 0.27 seconds away from scoring in the 100 butterfly. She would’ve loved to have scored in that event, but she was such a key member of the 400 free relay at the end of the meet that I think she felt very good about her performance. Jordan had a great experience as well. She recorded a split of 49 seconds flat in her leg of the relay, which was the second-fastest split in our history of that event, just behind Smith. I think she felt very good about the way that her career ended.”

IHS: The other two contributors, Erika Hajnal and Steffi Drechsel, swam well and that’s got to be promising for next season. Will they be the ones to take the torch from this year’s seniors?
NS: “Erika went up a little with her time in the 1,650 free, but she still finished 13th to score points, and doing that as a freshman is an excellent accomplishment. It’s kind of an end to an era at Virginia Tech when you look at the graduation of that senior class, along with the absence of what Jessica Botzum did the year before. With that whole crew having gone through our program and having had so much success, we are going to look for Erika and Steffi to lead the way with a very strong recruiting class. We’ll have a young group of women, but we do have some seasoned veterans returning. It will kind of be the start of a new phase here and we’re excited about going to that next phase of the program.”

IHS: Speaking of a strong recruiting class and the start of a new era, isn’t that what the men had in play this year?

NS: “As a freshman, Charlie Higgins was a top ACC performer, and at NCAAs, he finished 20th in the 100 backstroke. He didn’t score points for us, but he was just 0.27 seconds off of doing so. He returns as a key player for us because he’s so talented and so gifted. We had seven guys who scored points at ACCs who were all freshmen, and that really bodes well for where we want to head next year. We have some really strong divers coming to our team next year, and we really feel like our men’s program could be more balanced than ever. It could definitely be the type of year that we say is their best year ever.”

Junior Mikey McDonald scored points in two diving events at the NCAA Championships for the second straight year.

IHS: Finally, let’s not forget about junior diver Mikey McDonald, who scored in two events for the men this season at the national meet.
NS: “When you look at the men’s program, you can safely say that Mikey is the foundation of the team. He has been the only one to score points in either of the past two years at the NCAAs. We’d obviously like to see more guys score at that meet, but you take what you can get. He scored in the 1-meter and platform last year, and he scored in the 1-meter and 3-meter this year, making him an honorable mention All-American as well. He is the ultimate Hokie and someone who will continue to make us proud.”