Higashijima, Steven Gain All-America Finishes

March 23, 2002

AUSTIN, Tex. - Oregon State's Birte Steven added to her list of All-America honors and Naya Higashijima gained her first on Saturday as the NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championships concluded at the Texas Aquatic Center. The Beavers were 31st as a team - their best finish ever - as Steven placed 11th in the 200-yard breaststroke and Higashijima was 10th in the 200 butterfly.

'It was awesome - we had two more school records and a lot of things that have never been done in Oregon State swimming,' Beaver head coach Mariusz Podkoscielny said. Higashijima's time of 1 minute, 57.72 seconds in the 200 butterfly preliminaries set an OSU mark, as did Steven's 2:12.96 in the 200 breaststroke finals.

Auburn won the team championship, followed by Georgia, Stanford, Southern California and Arizona.

Steven became the first OSU swimmer to earn All-America honors twice in one meet, having already placed 16th in the 100 breaststroke. She also became the first three-time All-America in OSU swimming history, Steven had placed 16th in the 200 breaststroke last season.

It was also the first time OSU had two swimmers with All-America finishes in the same year.'We knew today would be a huge day for us,' Podkoscielny said. 'We knew the weekend would keep building until tonight, and we had an awesome day.

'Coming back off the Pac-10 meet and having been so emotionally charged there, and then coming into this meet where only about one-third of the swimmers go faster (than at their qualifying conference meets), we swam very well. We improved in this meet in many events.'

Steven swam Saturday after having twisted her knee while warming up for Friday's final in the 100 breaststroke. Steven's time of 2:13.85 was the 12th-fastest in the preliminaries, then she moved up one spot in the finals.

'My knee was hurting during the final, and I was just thinking, 'I have to make it through',' the sophomore said. 'I was surprised to get 11th, and I was happy about it - it was a school record. It was awesome, the whole season was just great.'

Being OSU's first three-time swimming All-American struck Steven soon after that.'I thought about it after the last race,' Steven said. 'It's great. I can't believe it - I'm so proud to be a Beaver.'

Steven, who was OSU's lone entry at last season's NCAA meet, felt having a teammate along this time helped.

'It was nice having somebody here with me,' Steven said. 'It's great to have somebody else here, and she swam fast - that was exciting. This will help our whole team, we come back and tell them how exciting it is, and we'll be practicing even harder to get them here and a relay here, too.'

Higashijima was able to turn the experience from two previous days of racing into Saturday's 10th-place finish in her best event, and seeing Steven pick up OSU's first All-America finish of the year also helped.

'She wasn't swimming as fast at night because her knee was hurting, bu tthat made me very excited even though I didn't have a very good swim (in Friday's 400 individual medley),' Higashijima said. 'Making it to NCAAs was my goal from the beginning of the season. Then, once the season got going, my goal changed to making the finals at the NCAAs. It was a great experience for me to be here.'

Even while putting together one of the best seasons in OSU history, Higashijima didn't quite feel like it was actually her becoming the eighth-seeded swimmer in the 200 butterfly going into the NCAA meet.

'But after I got here, I felt I belonged,' Higashijima said. 'It was exciting.' Higashijima had the ninth-fastest time in the preliminaries and missed a place in the top eight and the championship final by just .02 of a second.

The Beavers also had a number of swimmers who met the time to be considered for the NCAA meet but weren't quite fast enough to be included in the field.

'We had a couple of close calls with girls almost making it this year, and they'll be hungry for next year,' Podkoscielny said. 'That attitude is spreading on this team. We haven't left Austin yet, and I can't wait to get back and get to work on next year.'

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