April 14, 2003
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - With eight of her seniors ready to exit the confines of Purdue University in a few weeks, Purdue's women's swimming head coach Cathy Wright-Eger reflected on the positive impact they had in making the 2002-03 season one of the most successful in school history.
"When I think of this past season, I think of the leadership the team received from the seniors," said Wright-Eger, who recently completed her 17th season as the Boilermakers' mentor. "These women have led from the very first day of practice through the U.S. Senior Nationals. They built team chemistry and constantly worked with the younger athletes in and out of the pool, which made for a successful working environment."
Seniors Heather Bachman, Karina Bolanos, Lisa Dolansky, Carrie Dougherty, Patricia Finnerty, Shannon Funk, Lindsay Lange and Kim Paradeise are leaving the program in excellent shape. In the year prior to their arrival, the Boilermakers were at the bottom of the Big Ten standings, placing 10th in 1999. However, in the seasons since their debut, the Old Gold and Black has steadily rised up the conference ladder, placing ninth in 2000, seventh in 2001, sixth in 2002 and fifth this past season.
The Boilermakers made significant strides at the NCAA Championships, as well. In a five-year span from 1999 to 2003, Purdue has gone from being absent at the championship meet to placing 28th in 2003, which was its best finish since 1994 when it placed 26th.
It's quite possible that Purdue could tout itself as being the best all-around team in the nation, when factoring in both academics and athletics. Of the 53 women's teams that earned Academic All-America status for the 2002 fall semester, the Boilermakers ranked 14th with a grade-point average of 3.34. Thirteen teams earned higher GPA's, but none outscored Purdue at the NCAA Championships.
Purdue's fall GPA was tops among the Big Ten and ranked higher than the more academic-focused institutions like Cornell, Lafayette and the U.S. Military Academy.
Many teams would expect to suffer a few setbacks the following season after losing a talented crop of seniors, but Wright-Eger strongly believes that her crew will be just as good or better heading into the 2003-04 campaign.
"Purdue has always stressed the importance of independence, balance and being able to stand up on your own two feet," said Wright-Eger. "Each individual knows that she adds a lot to our team, like an ingredient in a recipe, and if you take someone out it's going to make a significant impact. However, our younger ones realize that its their turn to lead, and we have an exceptional group of juniors and sophomores who are capable of handling this task."
The Boilermakers' first half of the season was nearly flawless, finishing with an undefeated mark of 6-0-1. They opened at home with a dominating performance at the Indiana Intercollegiates, placing first with 705.5 points against the likes of Ball State, Butler, Indianapolis, IUPUI, Valparaiso and Vincennes. Despite the awesome showing, Purdue was not totally convinced of how good it was.
The team's attitude changed dramatically during its dual meet in South Bend vs. Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish destroyed Purdue by more than 100 points a season ago, but the Boilermakers displayed their own fighting spirit this time around and were able to tie their intrastate rivals 150-150.
"This meet acted as the spring board which propelled us to our phenomenal start," said Wright-Eger. "It made us believe that we were a good team."
Inspired by its effort in South Bend, Purdue reeled off six straight wins to finish off the fall semester, whipping teams from Miami (Ohio), Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Georgia Tech. The Boilermakers also handled Big Ten rivals Iowa and Northwestern. Purdue's narrrowest margin of victory during this stretch was 32 points against the Wildcats, 166-134.
The Boilermakers spent their entire winter break on the tropical island state of Hawaii, competing in both the Duke Kahanamoku Sprint Meet and the Aileen Soule Classic. Although the meets were not scored, Purdue finished approximately first of 15 teams on the first day and first of eight teams on the second day. The non-scoring meets gave the Old Gold and Black a chance to strengthen their skills, continue their winter training regimen and improve their individual top times on the season.
Purdue spent a total of three weeks in the Pacific, but only received two days off, Christmas and New Year's days. Both the men's and women's teams practiced twice a day, going from 6 to 8:30 a.m. and then again from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at night. During their down time, the Purdue athletes enjoyed all that Hawaii had to offer, including hiking trips on the Diamond Head volcano, viewing sunrises and sunsets, snorkling and luaus.
Wright-Eger acknowledges that even though the Hawaiian training was a fantstic opporutnity, which greatly benefitted the team, it left them exhausted going into the second half of the season.
"It took us about six weeks to rebound from the three weeks of training in Hawaii," said Wright-Eger. "I think everyone might have hit a psychological low coming back from that long trip since we were coming back into a cold environment after having spent almost a whole month on the beach."
Luckily for the Boilermakers, they rebounded just in time to host the Big Ten Championships. During the championship weekend at the Boilermaker Aquatic Center, Purdue swimmers recorded two NCAA 'A'-cuts, seven varsity records, 21 'B'-cuts and numerous lifetime-best swims. Lange was named to the Big Ten's first team, while Dolansky, Tracy Duchac, Finnerty and Paradeise were selected to the second team for their outstanding efforts.
Purdue's fifth-place showing at the conference meet was its best outing since 1996, and the 403 points were its most since 1992.
The Boilermakers' successful postseason run carried over into the NCAA Championships and the U. S. Senior Nationals. Purdue closed out the first day of competition at the NCAA's with 10 points and had all five of its swimmers earn honorable mention All-America citations for finishing among the nation's best in both the 200 freestyle and 400 medley relays.
The 200 free relay squad earned a 14th place showing of 1:32.63 and the 400 medley quartet posted a season-best mark of 3:41.29, which placed it 15th. Led by the strength of these relay teams, the Boilermakers collected 13 honorable mention All-America honors and several top-15 showings during their weekend trip to Auburn University.
Lange earned the team's only individual honorable mention All-America citation with a 10th-place finish in the 100 breaststroke. The All-America citation was Lange's third in three years competing in the 100 breast; she also took home honorable mention honors at the 2001 and 2002 championships.
Purdue completed its season with a trip to the U.S. Senior Nationals in Indianapolis, Ind. Lange highlighted the Boilermakers' week-long trip to the capital city after recording a 2004 Olympic Trial qualifying time in the 100 breast (1:12.65, long course meters).
Ten other Boilermakers joined Lange in Indianapolis, including newcomers Duchac, Yvonne Laaper, Christine Leupold and Erica Chandler. Wright-Eger was impressed with everyone's efforts in the long course meter pool since their times were similar to what they posted at the end of last summer's long course season.
Lange and classmate Dolansky will train with the team through the summer of 2004 when they start competing at the Olympic Trials in Long Beach, Calif. Wright-Eger said that they will be able to compete as unattached competitors in several of Purdue's future meets, helping them remain sharp until qualifying.
Although Lange, Dolanksy and the other seniors will not be a part of next year's team effort, the 2003-04 Boilermakers should have no problems succeeding. In competing for a program that is founded on the principals of leadership and independence, each swimmer and diver is given the necessary tools to develop themselves and their teammates into winners regardless of class or experience.
2002-03 Women's Swimming Award Winners
Academic All-Big Ten: Heather Bachman, Jennifer Bean, Karina Bolanos, Jill Collins, Lydia DeNuccio, Lisa Dolansky, Carrie Dougherty, Tracy Duchac, Patricia Finnerty, Shannon Funk Lindsay Lange, Christine Leupold, Lindsey Meier, Kim Paradeise, Autumn Sample, Katie Seleskie
Most Valuable: Lindsay Lange
Most Improved: Lydia DeNuccio
Purdue Pride in Swimming 'P2S' Award: Lindsay Kirchoff
"Whatever It Takes": Shannon Funk
Big Ten Medal of Honor: Lindsay Lange