PITTSBURGH – West Virginia University coach Vic Riggs hopes strength in numbers can help boost junior Mandie Nugent
to even greater heights at this year’s NCAA swimming and diving championships beginning Thursday afternoon in Auburn, Ala.
Nugent, a Greater Manchester, England resident, has already qualified for nationals twice during her outstanding career but she did so alone. This year, three of her teammates - Rachael Burnett
, Kata Fodor
and Danielle Smith
- will be joining her.
“The whole thing for her is having the opportunity to have her team here instead of having to travel by herself,” said Riggs.
West Virginia’s fifth-year coach believes the support Nugent will get from her teammates (as well as her mother and grandmother traveling over from England) will be extremely beneficial when she gets into the pool and competes against some of the best swimmers in the world.
“We had a blast last year and getting 17th kind of stinks, but the NCAAs in swimming and diving is so different because you go to your conference meet and you’ve got 20 other kids around you and you’ve got your kids screaming and hollering for you,” said Riggs. “And then you go to the NCAAs, and even with the four ladies, it’s going to be out of their comfort zone a little bit but at least we have them there to support each other. When you’re by yourself, obviously you have a lot of time to think and those doubts start creeping in I guess.”
Nugent is seeded second in the 200 butterfly with a top time of 1:54.43 – the fourth fastest clocking in the country this year – and she is believed to be the first swimmer in Mountaineer women’s history to ever receive an “A” cut qualification.
Nugent will also compete in the 100 fly, the 500 free and is part of the 800-meter free relay that set a school and Big East record with a time of 7:06.87 at the 2012 conference championships. That relay is seeded 15th heading into this weekend’s competition.
“We felt all of them had talent to get here on their own, but having the relay make it was a big part of the focus for the women’s team this year and that 800 free relay was our best relay, so having them make the meet was real good,” Riggs explained. “We were able to get a few girls to the meet for the first time and they will have an opportunity to experience it and Rachel (Burnett) and Mandie are going in seeded real well.”
The number of swimmers who can advance will obviously determine how many points the team will earn at this year’s championships. The top eight swimmers earn All-America honors while nine through 16 are accorded honorable mention All-America status. Riggs believes a top 25 finish is well within the team’s grasp this year.
“Our dual meet record isn’t always the best during the season, but if you take our results against some of those teams that we lost to when we swim at our championship meet and we compare our times to theirs it’s always kind of interesting,” Riggs explained. “We’re the only school to have a relay qualified for NCAAs out of the Big East and we’re taking the most girls – and we lost to Notre Dame and Louisville at the conference meet.
“For our program, we’ve always made it a priority that we’re always going to perform our best at our conference meet and then at NCAAs,” Riggs added. “The kids understand that the dual meets are part of the training and it’s an opportunity for us to improve upon our training.”
Riggs says the training program he has developed throughout his coaching career and has continued at WVU is based on finishing races.
“Our training reflects that,” he explained. “When I recruit the kids I tell them that our training is based on how I’d like to see them race so we do a lot of back-half stuff and a lot of negative splitting things. Anybody can win the first 25, the first 50 or the first 100 of events, but it’s the end of the race that it’s the important part.”
As for Nugent, she comes into this weekend’s competition extremely battled tested, having competed at the British Olympic Trials last week where she finished sixth in the 200 fly and 14th in the 100 fly.
“That performance gives me more confidence heading into this week,” Nugent admitted.
But it also means that her training for this year’s NCAA championships was severely altered in order to try out for the Olympic team. Riggs is somewhat concerned about the extensive travel and the time zone changes she’s had to endure recently.
“Fortunately for the U.S. kids our trials are after our college season this summer so it hasn’t been too big of a distraction. For Mandie, we kind of made the commitment at the end of last season that this was going to be her plan, so it’s not like this has crept up on her and she’s like, yeah, I’m going to go ahead and go,” Riggs explained. “We knew that she was going to have Big East and a couple of weeks later go to British Trials and then a week later go to NCAAs.”
Nugent says she feels fine right now but won’t know for sure how her body will react until she gets into the pool and begins racing. Riggs said the other three girls competing this weekend have had a great month of training and are ready to go.
“We’re looking for them to do well but Mandie, with the travel to England, right now we’re just taking it one day at a time and we’ll get things rolling on Thursday,” he said. “The fact that she’s qualified and seeded second is real good.”
The one thing that bodes well for Nugent is the fact that she’s so mentally tough and has put in the time and work in the pool.
“Mandie I call her the British Bulldog,” Riggs said. “She’s just a kid who understands that in our sport you’ve got to train hard and she does some things in the butterfly that other kids in our program can’t do. So when she got done with the Big East and she knew she was going to make the (national) meet I had the opportunity to say, hey, when do you want your big fly set this week? She tells me what day she wants to do it and then we put it together. She’s done a real good job.
“She started her taper over there and she got back into our schedule on Friday morning and it seems like everything has gone real well for her and at this point it’s kind of getting here and doing our thing and seeing if we can’t get some second swims,” Riggs said.
Advancing to the finals is Nugent’s primary goal, and who knows, perhaps even a top-eight finish could be in the cards as well.
“I know a lot of USA swimmers will be in the Olympics so it’s kind of scary being up on the blocks against them,” she said. “This is one of the fastest meets in the world.”