Women's Swimming and Diving: First-year Sasser shines at NESCACs

“Considering that we are rarely able to field a full squad at NESCACs simply because we lack the numbers, we were thrilled to beat Middlebury this year, a team double our size,” said tri-captain Michelle McCreary ’05.

Friday began with the 200-yard freestyle relay, in which the Amherst “A” team-tri-captain Liz Chiang ’05, Sasser, Lisa Pritchard ’08 and Rebecca Stein ’05-tied the College record of 1:36.54 and earned a provisional National qualification, also known as a B-cut.

Jennifer Lewkowitz ’08 earned third place with a B-cut in the 500-yard freestyle, while Julie Kim ’08 took fourth. Pritchard placed second in the 50-yard backstroke in 27.77. Sasser tied for first in the 200-yard individual medley with an A-cut, an automatic NCAA-qualifying 2:04.98. She broke her own College record and tied with Middlebury’s Marika Ross to break the NESCAC Championship and pool records. In the 50-yard freestyle, Chiang finished third with a B-cut while Stein took fifth. Shaw placed third in one-meter diving.

Amherst was 80 points behind Middlebury at the start of competition Saturday morning, but the Jeffs’ fortunes quickly changed. The 200-yard medley relay of Pritchard, Jill Wyrick ’05, Piper Pettersen ’07 and Chiang made a 1:48.00 A-cut, placing third. Chiang broke out of her traditional leadoff position to swim an impressive 23.5 anchor split.

McCreary’s 10:39.49 placed her fifth in the 1000-yard freestyle. Jasmina Cheung-Lau ’07 finished fourth in the 400-yard individual medley with an A-cut, breaking the College record in the preliminary race. Hilary Stockbridge ’05 and Lewkowitz also made B-cuts.

Pettersen took a close second in the 100-yard butterfly with an A-cut time. Stein took second place in the 200-yard freestyle, breaking her own College record. Kim finished sixth and Margaret Ramsey ’07 tied for seventh in the 200 freestyle. Pettersen earned her second A-cut with a fourth-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke.

Sasser, Chiang, Pritchard and Natalie Dyer ’07 demonstrated Amherst’s dominance in the 100-yard backstroke; the four comprised half of the championship heat. Sasser defeated teammates and opponents alike, breaking pool, College, Championship and NESCAC records. Chiang took third while Pritchard and Dyer placed fifth and sixth, respectively.

The 800-yard freestyle “B” relay of Lewkowitz, McCreary, Cheung-Lau and tri-captain Katie Massopust ’05 won their heat with a B-cut 7:54.17, faster than most of the “A” relays. Amherst’s “A” team swam an A-cut time and set pool, College and Championship records with 7:41.22. Kim, Sasser, Stein and Ramsey dominated the event, leaving the other teams to fight for second.

“I think the best part of the meet was the Saturday night finals session when we started turning things around with one great swim after the next and we surpassed Middlebury on the scoreboard,” said Massopust. “After that happened, I think the team’s excitement just [carried] us through the rest of the meet.”

On Sunday, Amherst strengthened its hold on second place. The 1650-yard freestyle was another example of Jeff depth, as Cheung-Lau had a B-cut third place and Lewkowitz, Alexis Johnston ’05 and Massopust took fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively. Sasser won the 200-yard backstroke with another A-cut time and set College, pool, meet and NESCAC records in 2:01.20. “I could not be happier with my races. I can’t wait to see what happens with our team at Nationals,” said Sasser. In the same race, McCreary and Dyer placed fourth and fifth, respectively, with McCreary making a B-cut.

Stein finished a B-cut second in the 100-yard freestyle. Pettersen’s fourth place in the 200-yard breaststroke was her third A-cut; Stockbridge finished with a B-cut fifth. Cheung-Lau and Ramsey took sixth and eighth, respectively, in the 200-yard butterfly. Shaw repeated last season’s three-meter diving win with a pool record of 444.65 points, earning the NESCAC Women’s Senior Diver of the Year Award. Kristin Boyd ’05 also made the finals, placing seventh.

“We are all so proud of our divers. [Shaw] dominated the competition once again and [Boyd] had an awesome meet; we were all so excited for her breaking into the top eight for the first time during this final meet of her career,” said McCreary.

Closing the meet, Sasser, Chiang, Kim and Stein swam an A-cut 3:30.90 in the 400-yard freestyle relay, breaking the College record and earning second place. “[Stein] was, as usual, the anchor to be reckoned with. She outswam a lot of league champions this weekend,” said Chiang.

“All in all it was just so great to have such depth. In many events there were three or four Amherst swimmers on the podium,” said Massopust. “This just shows how much each person contributes to the team. Everyone definitely stepped it up for the team’s sake this weekend.”

Added Chiang, “This has been by far the most wonderful and exciting NESCACs I’ve ever participated in. I’m particularly proud of the freshmen. Everybody’s just so excited about their potential!”

Indeed, Sasser reported that her first NESCAC Championships were inspiring and exciting. “We came to swim fast and that is exactly what we did. We challenged ourselves to be better than the rest, to fight each race to the end, and to be inspired by each other,” said Sasser, who ended the meet tied for fourth overall in individual scoring with 94 points for Amherst. Also finishing among the top individual scorers of the NESCAC were Stein in 10th with 81 points, Pettersen in 12th with 80 points and Cheung-Lau in 18th with 77 points.

By the end of the weekend, Williams had secured its fifth consecutive NESCAC crown with 1729 points, Amherst was second with 1431.5 and Middlebury third of 11 teams with a score of 1337. After their impressive showing in Vermont, the women will finish off their season by sending a strong contingent to the NCAA Div. III Championships March 10-12 at Hope College in Holland, Mich.