Swim team makes a splash at WAC championships

The New Mexico State women’s swimming and diving team made an impressive splash at the 2018 Western Athletic Conference Championships Feb. 21–24 in Houston, Texas, taking second place with a total score of 601 over the four-day event.

“We won three events out of the 22, but in the majority of the races we had girls in the top three,” said head coach Rick Pratt. “Picabo Bender, who is a senior, had the meet of her life. We brought 24 girls to conference and we had to pick our scoring team and didn’t have one girl not score. Everyone contributed in some way.”

Hanna McGowan competes at home earlier in the season. McGowan notched first-place finishes in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:14.07) and 100-yard breaststroke (1:01.91) at the Western Athletic Conference championships last month. (Photo by Maggie Adams/Kokopelli)

On day one of the competition, the 800-yard freestyle relay team composed of Picabo Bender, Grace Laporte, Johanna Pettersson and Sina Wegel set a school record with a time of 7:20:21. The record had previously been set in 2012. The women came in third in the event and helped gain a good start for the Aggies.

On day two Picabo Bender came in second place in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:50.95, which is only .01 seconds away from the school record. The Aggies had another second place win that day in the 200-yard IM (individual medley) from U.K. native Alix Knagg with a time of 2:02.41.

The team really broke away from the pack on day three of the meet. In the 100-yard breaststroke, Hanna McGowan came in first place with a time of 1:01.91. “I knew I had it in me. It was such an amazing feeling to achieve in something I’m so passionate about,” McGowen said.

“Hanna is our fourth WAC champion in this event,” coach Pratt said. “It has always been a good event for NMSU.”

Ashley Reynolds and Lauren Wood also scored for the Aggies and came in fourth and fifth in the race.

In the 100-yard butterfly, Reagan Nentwich came in second place with a time of 54:59 for the Aggies. Also, Picabo Bender swam an amazing race in the 200-yard freestyle and placed second with a time of 1:48:78.

Alix Knagg placed top-three again for the Aggies in the 400-yard IM with a time of 4:19.92, giving her third place. Day three was packed full of excitement, with the team placing well in so many events. The biggest win of the day, however, was the 400-yard medley relay. The team of Hanna McGowen, Picabo Bender, Reagan Nentwich and Alix Knagg came in first place with a time of 3:41.67, earning the Aggies some serious points.

The final day of the conference meet, the Aggies pulled out yet another stellar performance. Hanna McGowen placed first in the 200-yard breaststroke with a time of 2:14.07, with teammate Lauren wood at her heels placing second with a time of 2:14.71.

“Hanna wasn’t favored to win the 200, but she dropped three seconds from the morning to afternoon,” coach Pratt said. “She really had a dynamite last swim. Her and Lauren were neck and neck until the last three seconds.”

In the 400-yard freestyle relay, the team of Picabo Bender, Grace Laporte, Johanna Pettersson and Sina Wegel placed third. Over the four-day conference meet the Aggies had some truly remarkable wins. The women train all year for this one meet.

“Through the hard training there are some hills and valleys. Our team is really dedicated in everything they do, not just one aspect,” coach Pratt said. Looking ahead for the team, coach Pratt is excited to take eight swimmers to the USA Swimming Grand Prix in Mesa, Arizona. It is an international meet with the best swimmers in the world. He is excited for the women to have the experience and potentially qualify for Nationals.

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