Beavers Tie For 25th At NCAA Championships

March 22, 2003

AUBURN, Alab. - Birte Steven earned the highest placing ever by an Oregon State women's swimmer at the NCAA Championships and Naya Higashijima matched the previous highest finish Saturday evening as the meet concluded at Martin Aquatics Center. Steven, a junior, finished sixth in the 200-yard breaststroke while Higashijima, a senior, was eighth in the 200 butterfly; both finishes earned All-America honors.

Those results helped OSU to a tie for 25th place in the team race with 29 points, the Beavers' best-ever placing and highest-ever point total at the NCAAs. Last year, Oregon State had placed 31st with 14 points; the previous best individual finish by an OSU swimmer at the meet had been Amy van Loben Sels' eighth place in the 50 freestyle in 1994.

'When they were practicing in Langton Hall, they had it written on the board - they wanted to be in the top eight (individually) and in the top 25 for the team,' OSU head coach Mariusz Podkoscielny said. 'To do that was awesome - it was an outstanding team effort today.

'I'm proud of our whole team and how we carried it all the way through the year. To finish in the top 25 is thrilling. It took us seven years (since Podkoscielny came to OSU) to get here. We did it with no breaks along the way - we did it the old-fashioned way; we rolled up our sleeves and got it done.'

Auburn, the host school, won the team title with 536 points. All nine Pacific-10 schools fielding women's swimming teams scored at the national meet, with eight of those teams placing in the top 25.

Steven earned her second All-America honor of the meet and the fifth of her career when she finished sixth in 2 minutes, 11.03 seconds. Tara Kirk of Stanford won the event in 2:08.79Steven had swam the fourth-fastest time in Saturday morning's preliminaries, setting a school record of 2:09.96; her finals time was also ahead of her previous school record of 2:11.45 set at the Pacific-10 Championships on March 1. Last year, Steven had placed 11th in the 200 breaststroke.

It was the third straight season Steven has earned All-America in the 200 breaststroke, having also finished 16th in 2001. She is also a two-time All-America in the 100 breaststroke.

'Birte had a great performance,' Podkoscielny said. 'She also came really close to scoring in the 200 individual medley (by placing in the top 16), so we can realistically look at a possibility of getting her into a third event in scoring position next year. Also, her sprints are getting better, so now we need to try to get two top-eight finishes out of her.

'But we've got a year of work ahead of us. Her goal is also to make the German Olympic team, and the NCAAs would be a treat test for that.'

Higashijima wrapped up one of the finest careers in OSU women's swimming history by finishing eighth in the 200 butterfly in 1:58.04. Georgia's Mary DeScenza was first in 1:53.51.

Higashijima had recorded the sixth-fastest time in the preliminaries, going 1:57.42. That broke the school record she had set at the 2002 NCAA Championships, when she finished 10th and had gone 1:57.72 in the prelims.

Higashijima finished her career with 107 first-place finishes in dual meet and in competition and was a two-time All-American. She currently holds OSU school records in five individual events - the 500, 1,000 and 1,650 freestyles; the 200 butterfly and the 400 individual medley.

'It's been a charged-up, emotional weekend to have Naya going to her last meet,' Podkoscielny said. 'Reflecting back on where she came from, the recruiting process ...

'When Naya signed to come to OSU, it took us almost another year before she came to school; it was kind of a touch-and-go situation for a while. When she came to Oregon State, I think it took us about three or four weeks to realize we had something special. Then it took another month to realize that we also have somebody who's going to be a handful away from the pool, too - but in a good way.

'Naya is a lively person and sometimes it's hard to keep up with her. But I think that's what's made her great in the water and made her a leader and such an effective captain. She was always working behind the scenes for this team. Getting her to the NCAAs as a junior, and then getting her to be in the top eight this year - it feels great. It couldn't happen to a nicer person.'

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