FEBRUARY 10, 2011 1:49 p.m. (0)
“I wanted to help build something special,” she said.
And the freshman who swam for Mauldin High and Team Greenville is.
The Converse swim team – in its third year overall and second year competing in the Bluegrass Mountain Conference – finished its dual meet season undefeated and has team members qualified to swim in 14 events at the national Division II women’s swim meet in San Antonio in March.
And, to top it off, the team is expected to be named an All-American Academic team with its 3.32 grade point average, putting it in the top 10 for academic achievement among Division II women’s swim teams.
“We recruited student-athletes we thought we could make go faster. They bought into our program immediately,” said head coach Susan Kunkler. “They’ve had the vision and the persistence. They’re just performing unbelievably. And they’re as good in the classroom as they are in the pool.”
Building a strong athletic program is part of Converse President Betsy Fleming’s effort to keep the more than century old college relevant.
During Fleming’s tenure at Converse, the school has made several changes to create excitement on campus. It adopted a new nickname, the Valkyries, which is a woman of Norse mythology who carried war heroes back to Valhalla.
It created a School of the Arts and revamped the college’s academic programs. It built the school’s first on-campus apartment building to help with the school’s goal of providing progressively independent living space. It emphasized interdisciplinary collaboration and research.
Fleming has said she wants to make sure Converse is considered a regional and national power and a place where women’s lives are transformed.
Four of the team’s 13 swimmers, including Mason, have qualified for the national meet.
“We quickly identified the kind of swimmer it would take to build a championship program,” Kunkler said. “We’ve been able to recruit people we felt good about.”
Kunkler said she and assistant coach Corey White looked for swimmers who were strong in the classroom, were coachable and who had raw talent that could be developed.
“It’s easy to go to the established program. You just fit into the system,” Kunkler said. “But as a new program, we are counting on every single one of the ladies to bring something. Everybody counts. Everybody has to want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
Freshman Rhiannon Gluhosky of Summerville has qualified for nationals in six events – the 200 freestyle, the 500 freestyle, the 1000 freestyle, the 1650 freestyle, the 200 individual medley and the 400 individual medley.
Gluhosky, who has been swimming competitively since she was 6, is about 5 seconds off the Olympics trial cut time in the 400 IM.
“She’s close,” Kunkler said. “It’s not really that far off. I think she can drop the time.”
Gluhosky, who said she doesn’t have a best stroke, said she dropped time in every race she swam this season.
“I loved the fact that it was a new team and I wanted to be a part of building it up,” she said.
Sophomore Jenni Russell, who competed for the Middle Tyger YMCA when she lived in Greer during elementary school, will be going to nationals for the second consecutive year. She has qualified in the 400 IM and the 200 breaststroke.
Mason has qualified for four events at nationals – the 100 free and the 200 in freestyle, individual medley and the backstroke.
Mason said the team has grown together this season. She also said the conference meet, during which four more Converse swimmers hope to qualify for nationals, is a time to “show everybody the commitment we have.”
“We just want to go out and swim fast and have fun,” she said.
Kunkler said Mason has shown the most growth during the season than any of the Converse swimmers.
Christi Bradley is nationally qualified in the 400 IM and the 200 butterfly.
The swim team’s success is a significant step toward Converse’s goal of building a winning athletics program.
“We are serious about building a winning program,” said Fleming. “The tremendous momentum built over the past few years has attracted the attention of many talented student-athletes. These women are looking to Converse as a college where they can compete on a high level while also excelling in academics and enjoying a vibrant student life.”
The school fields teams in basketball, cross country, equestrian, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, tennis and volleyball.
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