TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida State women’s swimming and diving team is approaching the halfway point of the 2017-18 season as it heads to Atlanta, Ga. for the Georgia Tech Invite from Nov. 16-18.
The three-day, prelim/final, NCAA format invitational will look to be a benchmark as the Seminoles look ahead to the 2018 portion of the season.
Here are five things to watch:
Senior Natalie Pierce
Last season, Natalie Pierce made a statement and put her name on the map as one of the top breaststrokers in the country after seeing a two-second drop in the 100 breast, becoming the first woman in school history to break the one-minute barrier at 58.37. She would go on to place fourth at the NCAA Championships, lowering the school record to 58.25.
This year, Pierce has been as fast as 1:01.74, ranking her 16th in the nation and third in the ACC in addition to providing a huge boost on relays.
Relays to make an NCAA Push
At the 2016 UGA Invite, the Seminoles showed drastic improvement on relays – setting new school records while earning NCAA ‘A’ standards in three events.
Two of the three school records that FSU set during the 2016-17 season, were set and still stand from the midseason invite:
200 free relay – 2016, 1:28.97- Nika Blank, Lydia Ware, Tayla Lovmore, Alexi Smith
200 medley relay – 2017, 1:36.36 – Ariel Barber, Natalie Pierce, Tayla Lovemore, Lydia Ware
400 medley relay – 2016, 3:33.43, Ariel Barber, Natalie Pierce, Tayla Lovemore, Lydia Ware
This season, the Noles hold the 10th fastest time in the country in the 200 free relay behind Nika Blank, Leila Johnston, Ariel Barber and Alexi Smith, clocking 1:31.58 on Oct. 7 against Minnesota. In addition, Madeline Cohen, Pierce, Elise Olsen and Alexi Smith have the 15th fastest time in the 400 medley relay (3:41.03), which was set back on Oct. 28 against Arizona State. The squad set a new Taishoff Aquatic Pavilion pool record two weeks prior, touching at 3:41.54 against Duke and Virginia Tech.
Florida State also ranks among the best in the nation in the 200 medley relay, coming in tied for 18th at 1:40.81.
The 400 and 800 free relays are the only two that have yet to be broken under second year head coach Neal Studd. Both events were set back in 2014 at 3:15.76 and 7:06.56 respectively.
Divers Poised to Shine
The Florida State diving contingent has only lost one event this season in duals heading into the invite after facing top diving schools such as Florida, Minnesota, Duke, Virginia Tech and Arizona State.
Senior Blaire Mulka has come on strong in the last two meets, taking home three of a possible four events. In fact, Mulka has turned in the highest score on the team this season on 1-meter of 313.78.
Sophomore Ayla Bonniwell also started the season off on fire, earning two ACC Diver of the Week honors following her performances at the All Florida Invite and against Duke and Virginia Tech, where she won both 1-meter and 3-meter.
Her classmate Molly Carlson – the reigning ACC Diver of the Year, will look to get things going competing on platform, where she is also the defending ACC champ.
Freshmen/Newcomers to Make a Mark
In recent meets, the Seminoles have seen their rookies and newcomers step up and win races as well as contribute big on relays. In fact, newcomers hold the top times on the team in seven events.
Junior Shelly Drozda, a transfer from Indiana has proved to be one of the more versatile swimmers on the team, turning in the top times in the 200 IM (2:03.22), 400 IM (4:25.65), 200 free (1:51.47), 500 free (4:58.59) and 200 back (1:59.45) this season. Other top additions include Cohen in the 100 back (54.66) and Elise Olsen in the 100 fly (54.38).
Other top freshmen include Ana Zortea, who holds to second fastest marks in the 100 back (55.49) and 100 breast (1:04.00) along with Emma Terebo, who won her first individual event at the Quad Meet in Tallahassee on Nov. 4 in the 100 back (56.55), while Madi Tyle (2:04.61) and Kathryn Petrone (2:05.39) are two of the fastest in the 200 fly.
Newcomers have impacted backstroke the most as five of the top six performers in both backstroke events have come from freshmen or transfers.
Alexi Smith Returning Home
Senior Alexi Smith has had a fantastic start to her final season in the Garnet and Gold, winning the 50 free at the All Florida Invite, Arizona State and Quad Meet, posting a time of 23.03 to open the season. For her efforts, she was named the ACC Swimmer of the Week.
Smith has also stepped up big, anchoring both medley and free relays while gutting out wins in the 100 free as well.
Like Cohen, the Lawrenceville, Ga. native will also return home to compete in her final mid-season invite of her career.
Florida State will return to action Nov. 16-18 at the Georgia Tech Invite in Atlanta, Ga.
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