Beavers Set Sights On 2002-03

Oct. 15, 2002

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SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19Oregon State, California-Santa Barbaraat UCLA; Los Angeles, Calif.; 12 noon

Oregon State is in an unfamiliar position as it begins the 2002-03 women's swimming season this Saturday with a double-dual against UCLA and California-Santa Barbara at UCLA.

Coming off their best finish at the Pacific-10 Championships in over a decade, the Beavers enter this season not looking up toward the rest of the conference. Oregon State is out to challenge the teams in front of the Beavers; at the same time, opponents are looking at OSU as a team to contend with.

Having never eclipsed the 300-point mark before last season's Pac-10 meet, the Beavers easily set a school record with 477 points. OSU finished seventh, 27.5 points in front of eighth-place Washington, but was 341.5 points behind sixth place Arizona State. Without the points a diving squad would earn, it is nearly impossible for OSU to catch the top six teams; however, the Beavers hope to close the gap while maintaining their hold on seventh place.

'We are looking ahead, but at the same time not underestimating teams behind us,' OSU head coach Mariusz Podkoscielny said. 'Washington is going to be very, very strong. Washington State had some coaching changes and some swimmers leave so they are going to be strong but I don't think they are going to be as much of a factor as they have been in the past.'

The Beavers return 10 letterwinners and seven of them scored points at the 2001 Pac-10 meet. Naya Higashijima and Birte Steven, OSU's All-Americans last season, head a team that consists of four seniors, one junior, five sophomores and 10 freshmen.

Seniors Higashijima, Paula Finlay, Jillian McMinn and Suzanne Starkey have all lettered in each of the last three years and have helped the program compile a 21-13 dual meet record in their careers. It is the best three-year mark since OSU swimming joined the Pac-10 for the 1986-87 season.

Higashijima currently holds five individual school records (500-yard freestyle, 1,000 free, 1,650 free, 200 butterfly and 400 individual medley), swam a leg on two record-setting relay teams and is in the OSU all-time top-10 in three other events. She has won 76 individual event races in her career and paced the team with 31 scoring victories and two exhibition wins last year.

Higashijima qualified for the 2002 NCAA Championships in the 500 free, 400 IM and 200 fly. She earned All-American honors with a 10th-place finish in the 200 fly.

Finlay has six places on OSU's top-10 lists, while Starkey holds school records in the 100 backstroke and 100 fly and was on three OSU-record relay teams. McMinn has OSU top-10 times in the 1,000 and 1,650 freestyle events.

Steven, the team's only junior, became Oregon State's first three-time All-American with an 11th-place finish in the 200 breast and 16th place in the 100 breast. As a freshman, she took 16th in the 200 breast.

Steven is the school record holder in the 100 and 200 breasts and 200 IM, and has top-10 marks in four other events plus places on three school-record relay teams.

Mix in a sophomore class that showed plenty of potential last season and a talented freshman class, and OSU has the makings of another outstanding season.

'They have clicked as a group,' Poskoscielny said. 'It has been the best preseason, both in and out of the water, so we are very excited.'

The coaches and swimmers can't wait to see the results.

'We had a great opportunity to put more than two people in NCAAs last year,' Podkoscielny said. 'From a coaching standpoint, I'll be very happy if we get more than two - our goal is to take more people to the NCAA Championships.'

Oregon State's schedule will be slightly different than in past seasons. OSU will compete in the Husky Invitational in early December this year instead of the Speedo Cup, which the team has attended the past nine seasons. The Husky Invitational will be held in Federal Way, Wash., at the pool where the 2003 Pac-10 Championships will be held.

'The Pac-10s are at Federal Way this year and Washington has been asking us to go their meet for quite a while so we are going to give it a shot this year,' Podkoscielny said. 'It is a nice pool and the girls will get to test it out. There are a lot of college teams and club teams (that compete at the invitational), which gives us a chance to showcase ourselves and is a good recruiting tool.'

The Beavers will conclude December with a training trip to Hawai'i; OSU also visited the islands last season, and Podkoscielny feels that trip was very helpful to Oregon State's later steps up the ladder.

'I think a key to our success last year was a very strong and solid training trip to Hawai'i,' he said. 'We hope to accomplish a lot of good things training-wise when we go there this year.'

The Beavers will have five dual meets involving Pac-10 opponents this season. OSU's first dual meet of the year is at UCLA and the Beavers will face California on the road in November; Oregon State concludes the regular season with two home duals against Washington State and one at Washington.

OSU was 0-4 in conference dual meets last season, something Podkcoscielny hopes will change this season.

'We want to make sure that we get a few more Pac-10 wins,' the coach said. 'We added a couple of teams in Cal and UCLA and that really lifts the level of competitiveness as far as the strength of schedule. At the end of the season with Washington and Washington State we will be looking to jump off to the Pac-10 meet and NCAAs.'

2001-02 IN REVIEW: In his first six years as Oregon State's women's swimming head coach, Mariusz Podkoscielny and his teams had the goal of placing better than ninth in the Pacific-10 Conference Championships.

2002 was when the Beavers met that goal, and made school history in the process.

The Beavers had their best finish at the Pacific-10 Championships in over a decade in 2002, earning seventh place. They also placed higher than any other OSU women's swimming team at the NCAA Championships by finishing 31st; the Beavers' Birte Steven and Naya Higashijima earned All-America honors.

'I think the season surpassed some of our expectations,' Podkoscielny said at the end of the season. 'I think this was by far the best season we've had at Oregon State since I've been here. It might be the best season here, period.'

The Beavers finished the regular season with a 7-5 overall dual meet record, their third straight winning season. OSU's 7-meet win streak was the third-longest in the history of the program, trailing only a pair of 11-meet win streaks.

Belmont Plaza Pool in Long Beach, Calif., was a record-setting site for the Beavers. Prior to OSU's Pac-10 success at the venue, Oregon State competed there in the Speedo Cup and set 12 school records in 11 events as it placed second in a 21-team field.

Oregon State returned to the Belmont Plaza Pool for the Pac-10 Championships and the Beavers placed seventh for their best finish since 1991. The Beavers had never broken the 300-point mark at a Pac-10 Championship but easily surpassed that with 477 points and broke 10 school records in 9 events.

Sophomore Birte Steven earned All-American honors by placing 11th in the 200-yard breaststroke and 16th in the 100 breaststroke at the NCAA Championships. Steven became the first OSU swimmer to earn All-America honors twice in the same season and 3 times in her career; she had placed 16th in the 200 breaststroke as a freshman.

Junior Naya Higashijima made her first trip to the NCAAs and earned All-America honors by placing 10th in the 200 butterfly. It was the first time that OSU had more than 1 swimmer earn All-America honors in the same season.

Behind the performances of Steven and Higashijima, Oregon State finished 31st in team competition, surpassing OSU's previous best finish of 35th in 1995.

'What is exciting is that we competed well, without a doubt, against the best Pac-10 competition in the history of this conference,' Podkoscielny said. 'And to go to NCAAs and swim in the fastest NCAAs in history was thrilling and exciting.

'What surpised me this year was how well we did against such a tough swim meet at the NCAAs. I didn't expect the NCAAs to be as competitive this year.'

HEAD COACH MARIUSZ PODKOSCIELNY: Mariusz Podkoscielny is now in his seventh season as head coach at Oregon State, having turned the program around since arriving prior to the 1996-97 season. Under his leadership, the Beavers have posted 3 straight winning seasons, going 21-13 for a .610 winning percentage in that time.

Since Podkoscielny took over the Beaver program, his teams have a dual meet record of 28-35 overall and 2-18 in the Pacific-10.

Podkoscielny, 34, is a 9-time All-American and 2-time Olympian. Prior to coming to OSU in the fall of 1996, Podkoscielny had been an assistant men's and women's coach at Arizona since 1993.

A native of Gdansk, Poland, Podkoscielny was a member of the Arizona swim team from 1988-92 and was one of the fastest distance swimmers in UA history. He was also on the Polish National Team from 1980-92 and competed in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics.

In June, 2002, Podkoscielny was honored as the OSU Female Sport Coach of the Year at the fourth annual Benny Awards.

OSU VERSUS THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTS: Oregon State is 0-1 all time versus both UCLA and California-Santa Barbara. The Beavers opened last season at California-Santa Barbara against the Gauchos and UCLA, falling 136-124 to UCSB and 167-93 to the Bruins.

SENIOR ALL-AMERICAN NAYA HIGASHIJIMA: Naya Higashijima has led the Beavers in individual event victories in all three of her seasons at OSU, piling up 76 first-place finishes in dual meet and invitational competition. As a freshman, Higashijima won 21 races, as a sophomore she won 24 and as a junior 31, including her first 20 individual races to start the season.

Higashijima made her first trip to the NCAA Championships in 2002 as she qualified in the 500 freestyle, 400 individual medley and the 200 butterfly. She set a school record in the 500 freestyle and 200 butterfly, and placed 10th in the 200 butterfly to gain her first All-American honor.

JUNIOR ALL-AMERICAN BIRTE STEVEN: The phrase 'first-ever' was commonly associated with Birte Steven after her performance at the 2002 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. Steven became the first-ever OSU swimmer to earn All-America honors twice in the same meet with her 16th-place finish in the 100 breaststroke and her 11th- place finish in the 200 breaststroke. Combined with her 16th-place finish at the 2001 NCAAs in the 200 breastroke, Steven is OSU's first-ever 3-time All-American.

Steven has 47 first-place finishes in dual meet and individual competition in her first 2 seasons at OSU. As a freshman, Steven shared team-high honors in individual event victories with Naya Higashijima at 24 scoring wins. In her sophomore season, Steven placed first in 23 races.

SENIORS CAREER RECORD: In their first three years in the OSU program, seniors Paula Finlay, Naya Higashijima, Jillian McMinn and Suzanne Starkey have helped Oregon State compile a 21-13 dual meet record behind three consecutive seven-wins seasons. The mark (.610 winning percentage) is the best three-year record since OSU joined the Pac-10 and NCAA swimming in the 1986-87 season.

STEVENS NATATORIUM: Oregon State swims its home meets at Stevens Natatorium on the OSU campus. OSU will host 4 dual meets during the 2002-03 season.

The Beavers went 3-1 at home in dual meets last season and have an all-time record of 8-4 in the pool.

Stevens Natatorium is adjacent to Dixon Recreation Center, near Gill Coliseum. The pool opened in 1994 but was not outfitted for competition until prior to the 1999-2000 season.

OSU had scheduled its home meets at Corvallis' Osborn Aquatic Center since the community pool opened for the 1979-80 season. A few meets were still held on campus at Langton Pool.

OREGON STATE SEASON FINISHES: The Beavers 7-5 dual meet record last year marked the third consecutive year that OSU finished with a winning record; that's the longest streak since a 4-year run above .500 from 1987-88 to 1990-91.

OREGON STATE EVENT WINNERS: Last season Naya Higashijima topped OSU swimmers in individual event victories with 31 wins. A look at returning Beaver leaders results from last season (exhibition wins in parentheses, and not included in total):

1. Naya Higashijima	(2) 312. Birte Steven	        (1) 233. Kristin Huston	144. Suzanne Starkey	45. Paula Finlay	        27. Jessie Hong 	        1(tie) Mari Embertson	1

BEAVERS' PLACES ON SCHOOL TOP-10 LISTS: Members of OSU's 2002-2003 squad hold 46 of the 140 places on the Beavers' list of the top 10 performers in each individual event. Current Beaver swimmers with entries on the OSU all-time leaders list entering the 2002-03 season:

1. Naya Higashijima 	82. Birte Steven 	73. Paula Finlay 	6(tie) Suzanne Starkey	6(tie) Kristin Huston	4(tie) Mari Embertson	47. Jessie Hong  	38. Jillian McMinn	2(tie) Nicole Reynolds	2

WHERE THE BEAVERS RANK ON SCHOOL LISTS: Here are OSU's school records and where members of the 2002-2003 Beavers (listed in bold type) rank on the school's individual top-10 entering the 2002-2003 season:

50 FREESTYLE1. Amy van Loben Sels	23.11	19942. Kristin Huston	23.40	20026. Suzanne Starkey	23.96	2002100 FREESTYLE1. Amy van Loben Sels	50.64	19952. Kristin Huston	50.98	20027. Suzanne Starkey	52.42	2001200 FREESTYLE1. Kristin Huston	1:50.61	20024. Naya Higashijima	1:52.89	20005. Birte Steven 	1:54.20	200210. Paula Finlay	1:54.99	2000500 FREESTYLE1. Naya Higashijima	4:51.74	20026. Birte Steven 	5:05.31	20011,000 FREESTYLE1. Naya Higashijima	10:00.85 20022. Birte Steven 	10:19.01 20026. Grace Peterson	10:26.76 20027. Jillian McMinn	10:38.50 20001,650 FREESTYLE1. Naya Higashijima	16:34.60 20025. Grace Peterson	17:16.71 200210. Jill McMinn 	17:51.30 2000100 BACKSTROKE1. Suzanne Starkey	57.15	20018. Kristin Huston	59.37	2002200 BACKSTROKE1. Christy Ryerson	2:03.41	19944. Paula Finlay 	2:05.45	20015. Suzanne Starkey	2:05.93	20017. Jessie Hong  	2:06.59	2002100 BUTTERFLY1. Suzanne Starkey	55.77	20023. Naya Higashijima	56.46	2001200 BUTTERFLY1. Naya Higashijima	1:57.72	20022. Suzanne Starkey	2:04.54	2002100 BREASTSTROKE1. Birte Steven 	1:01.94	20022. Paula Finlay 	1:03.88	20025. Mari Embertson	1:06.38	20029. Nicole Reynolds	1:07.45	2002200 BREASTSTROKE1. Birte Steven 	2:12.96	20022. Paula Finlay 	2:16.61	20023. Mari Embertson	2:20.77	20028. Nicole Reynolds	2:23.87	2002200 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY1. Birte Steven 	2:04.01	20022. Paula Finlay 	2:04.54	20023. Mari Embertson	2:06.56	20027. Jessie Hong  	2:08.39	20028. Naya Higashijima	2:08.40	2002400 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY1. Naya Higashijima	4:18.98	20022. Mari Embertson	4:20.23	20023. Birte Steven 	4:21.54	20025. Paula Finlay 	4:28.30	20016. Jessie Hong  	4:28.31	2002
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