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Vol. LXII, No. 11
 
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
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STEPPING UP: Princeton University women’s swimming star Brett Shiflett prepares to get in the starting blocks in a race earlier this season. Shiflett won the 100 and 200 freestyle races at the Ivy League Championship meet to help Princeton win the league crown. Shiflett’s season is not done as she will be competing in the upcoming NCAA championship meet at Ohio State from March 20-22. Shiflett qualified for the NCAA 200 and 500 freestyle races as well as the 800 free relay.

PU Women’s Swimming Does Special Things as Freestyle Star Shiflett Reaches Potential

Bill Alden

There was a sense of excitement surrounding the Princeton University women’s swimming team as it looked forward to the 2007-08 season.

Feeling that the team had potential to do big things, longtime Princeton head coach Susan Teeter had T-shirts made for her athletes which read “On the Verge of Something Special.”

For veteran freestyle star Brett Shiflett, the message on the T-shirts resonated throughout the team.

“That shirt defined our whole experience,” said Shiflett. “Our team really wanted to win the Ivy League and a few people had their eye on the NCAAs.”

The Tigers have proven to be special and then some this winter. After going undefeated in dual meets, Princeton fed on the support of its home fans as it rolled to the Ivy title two weekends ago at DeNunzio Pool.

In the process, Princeton has risen to No. 18 in the national rankings and is sending seven swimmers to the upcoming NCAA meet at Ohio State from March 20-22.

Shiflett has done some special things, qualifying for the NCAA 200 and 500 freestyle races as well as the 800 free relay.

Joining Shiflett at the NCAA meet will be classmate Lisa Hamming (400 individual medley), juniors Justina DiFazio (800 free relay) and Monika Friedman (200 butterfly), sophomores Alicia Aemisegger (400 IM, 500 free, and 1,650 free together with 800 free relay), and Courtney Kilkuts (200 IM) and freshman Meredith Monroe (800 free relay).

Coming into the season, Shiflett was determined to produce a memorable final campaign with the program.

“I definitely felt like I hadn’t reached my potential,” said Shiflett, who swam her qualifying time for the 200 and 500 free races at the Ivy championship meet. “I wanted to go out swimming my best but I didn’t have great expectations.”

Shiflett exceeded her expectations at the Ivy meet where she won the 100 and 200 free races and placed second in the 500 free.

The Agoura Hills, Calif. native got things off to a rousing start in the opening night of the three-day Ivy competition.

“I was swimming against Alicia in the 500 free and we don’t usually swim in the same event and I was also swimming my last race against my classmate Ellen Gray,” recalled Shiflett.

“It’s my long race and I wanted to do well. I wanted to set a tone for the meet. To get in the NCAA meet in the 500 gave me a lot of confidence for the 200.”

A night later, Shiflett put together the 200 of her career as she set a Princeton, DeNunzio, and meet record with her winning time of 1:46.51.

“Coming into college, the 200 free was my main event,” said Shiflett. “I struggled a little bit with it as I focused on the 500. It was special to get my best time, a time I didn’t think was possible for me.”

Shiflett ended things on a high note as she won the 100 free in her final Ivy appearance.

“It was nice for me to see that I could still sprint,” said Shiflett. “It was my last race at DeNunzio and that was very emotional.”

“The thing that is unique and special is that we are a family,” said Shiflett. “The energy is big; it has not been like that on any high school or club team that I’ve been on. It feels like everyone on the team is supporting you.”

With Shiflett and the seniors having fallen short in the Ivy meet in 2005, the veterans were able to use that painful experience to help keep the younger swimmers focused.

“Going into the season we could bring perspective,” explained Shiflett. “The younger classes have always been on top; they don’t have that feeling of not winning. We can tell them how awful it is to see someone else with the trophy. We can keep them working hard.”

Princeton head coach Teeter has seen a special work ethic in this year’s squad. “I think there was a high level of determination to work harder and swim faster,” said Teeter, who is in her 24th year guiding the program and has led the Tigers to eight of the last nine Ivy titles and 13 overall.

“They were always asking what more can we do. Last year we had swimmers who had some brilliant performances but just missed out on the NCAAs. They were saying this year, ‘I’m just a couple of 10ths off, I just need to go a little faster.’ I think that set up this year.”

Shiflett certainly falls into that group of swimmers who broke through this season. “What she did is really special,” asserted Teeter.

“Brett is really talented but she came into this year not knowing how good she could be. She is not someone who talks about things; she is just such a racer. She is in events where she has a lot of competition and she knows if she swims with Alicia, she’ll be alright.”

Perhaps the most emotional moment of the Ivy competition came when Hamming qualified for the NCAA 400 IM.

“She had a six-second drop; that was a phenomenal swim,” said Teeter. “She looked great in workouts. She worked so hard to get to that point; I was so happy to see her do that.”

Teeter is happy to have sophomore superstar and U.S. Olympic hopeful Aemisegger leading the way for the Princeton contingent at the NCAA meet.

“I want Alicia to have success,” said Teeter of the Oakland, Pa. native, who placed second in 400 IM (4:04.80), third in 500 free (4:38.88) and reached consolation finals of 200 breast at 2007 NCAA Championships.

“I want Alicia to have success, she is working so hard. Winning a national championship would give her confidence going into the Olympic trials.”

Teeter is confident that the rest of her NCAA swimmers will make the most of the experience. “I just want to see the rest of them swim fast,” said Teeter. “We thought we had a Top 20 team and we worked hard and proved it. I’m really proud of the program and the recognition we have gotten.”

Shiflett, for her part, is ready go full throttle at the NCAA meet. “I’m excited; it’s definitely the last meet of my life,” said Shiflett. “I want to see if I can ride the high from the Ivy meet.”

Whatever happens at the NCAA meet, though, won’t change the central aspect of Shiflett’s Princeton swimming experience.

“The biggest thing for me is the family aspect of this,” said Shiflett. “To see alums back at the Ivy meet was great. I know I will be a part of this forever.”

And Shiflett will forever remember her special 2007-08 season.

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