After showing they were more than comfortable competing against the elite women's four at the Swimming World Magazine's College Conference Carnival on Jan. 16, the seven-time defending Atlantic 10 Champions have two more trump cards to play as they look forward to hosting their first home meet of the season, against the James Madison Dukes on Jan. 31.
The team is edging closer to the A-10 Championship tournament on Feb. 18 in Buffalo, N.Y., with two additions to the team -- diving coach Diane Maiese and senior diver Julia Bizer -- who have taken the team and coaching staff to a total of 22 as the team looks to defend the A-10 title for the eighth year in a row.
Bizer is no ordinary diver. In fact, to most people on campus, Bizer, who is in her final academic semester, is known as a soccer player, having played on the University of Richmond women's soccer team for the last four years. Soccer coach Peter Albright spoke highly of Bizer, saying she had one of the best attitudes on the soccer team and that she was a joy to coach and to be around.
Swimming coach Matt Barany agreed and said Bizer was "a ridiculously talented athlete, who is brave and willing to learn very quickly."
Senior captain Lauren Beaudreau said Bizer was a valuable addition to the swimming and diving program, which broke records and took home gold at the Jan. 16 meet.
Junior Alex Helland broke a record in the 100-meter backstroke -- 55.31 seconds, following her 200-meter backstroke record the night before. Katie Sieben took home gold in the 100-meter butterfly, 54.47; Freshman Charlotte Brackett posted the school's third-fastest time in the 50-meter freestyle, and Beaudreau won two silvers in the 100-meter breastroke and 400-meter Individual Medley.
But the team has accomplished more than just fast times. Beaudreau said she was excited about the team's chemistry out of the water on Jan.16.
"We had a special presence on the deck that some of the other teams were lacking," Beaudreau said. "I think what we accomplished together [at the Swimming World Magazine's College Conference Carnival] was just a small taste of what it feels like when we're at A-10's and that we'll continue to get some more experience."
The addition of Bizer has contributed to the increased team chemistry.
"Her positive energy and attitude mesh very well with the personality of the team and help us to keep a good perspective," Beaudreau said.
Bizer was a diver before college, but had not dived for five years before joining the team. But with a personality that welcomes challenges, Bizer took to learning new dives with great enthusiasm.
"She has a natural ability, gets the job done and doesn't think about the uncontrollable," Maiese said.
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Lots of time was not something Bizer had. Her seventh diving practice was her first meet. In her fifth week of diving for the Spiders, she participated in her second meet, the Swimming Women's Magazine College Conference Carnival, where she competed against NCAA standard divers, Maiese said.
Bizer and Maiese each bring different dynamics to the pool. Bizer brings tenacity, proving to better her diving ability at each meet, and Maiese brings experience, having been named A-10 Diving Coach of the Year for the last five years at LaSalle University.
Inspired by Spider sports and motivated by the rigorous schedule athletics entail, Bizer said she was challenged to see how far she could go in a new sport.
The team chemistry exists among the coaching staff, too. Maiese said this was the first swimming and diving coaching staff that she has been a part of in which both of the programs were unanimous in their need to excel as a whole swimming and diving team -- not just in their individual programs.
"They communicate well," Maiese said.
Maiese said Bizer had to learn dives the morning of a meet, but that she was expected to have a full repertoire of dives for the coming contest against James Madison, where she will perfect her dives for A-10 competition.
Diving, she said, "is like a two-second sprint. You have to be on when it counts."
For Bizer, learning to perfect three new dives on the day of competition on a week-to-week basis is both thrilling and rewarding. Bizer is expected to perform three dives at the JMU swimming and diving meet.
"I have come a long way," she said.
Contact reporter Dani Pycroft at firstname.lastname@example.org
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