Top-25 finish at NCAA meet, three All-America honors highlight Podkoscielny's finale
Oregon State's rate of improvement in women's swimming remained strong during the 2002-03 season, as the Beavers continued their climb in the swimming ranks. The Beavers' accomplishments capped Mariusz Podkoscielny's seven seasons as OSU's head coach; it was announced on June 12 that he was leaving Oregon State to become head coach at Miami (Fla.).
But in Podkoscielny's final season, the Beavers cracked the top 25 at the NCAA Championships for the first time in school history and Birte Steven and Naya Higashijima both earned All-America honors. OSU scored a school-best 544 points at the Pacific-10 Championships and broke school records 28 times in 13 events - all in championship-style meets.
The Beavers also enjoyed dual meet success, tying a 13-year-old school record with 12 victories. That included winning 10 straight dual meets and recording the first Pac-10 dual meet win in two seasons.
'It was a very fulfilling and amazing season, especially now knowing that it was my last season at Oregon State,' Podkoscielny said. 'This past season was definitely a year to remember for Oregon State swimming.'
Steven and Higashijima put the finishing touches on the season at the NCAA Championships in Auburn, Alab. Steven placed sixth in the 200-yard breaststroke - the highest NCAA finish ever by an OSU swimmer - and 11th in the 100 breaststroke; Higashijima finished eighth in the 200 butterfly. With 29 points earned in those three events, the Beavers finished tied for 25th in team competition.
'The NCAAs was a dream come true and an amazing accomplishment,' Podkoscielny said. 'There were a lot of questions marks going into the NCAAs, but because of the work that had been put in before and the toughness and character of those two girls, they got the job done.
'They accomplished something that had never been done before at Oregon State. They've truly put themselves in the history books at OSU.'
The Beavers made regular season history also. The 12-3 dual meet record matched the school record set by the 1979-80 team that went 12-1. OSU won 10 consecutive duals during the season, one short of the school record winning streak, and the program finished with a winning season for the fourth consecutive year.
'Going 12-3 was very special to this group,' Podkoscielny said. 'Dual meets are not crucial, but are a stepping stone for Pac-10s and NCAAs. We were definitely coming off the dual meet season feeling very good about our accomplishments and feeling confident heading into the Pac-10 meet. It showed in the demeanor of the girls in the pool.'
Podkoscielny said the Beavers' performances in back-to-back duals to start the second half of the season was a memorable experience.
'We swam two tough meets in the altitude without diving and we came out a winner in a close meet against Utah,' Podkoscielny said. 'We went to BYU the next day and the girls went beyond what we were expecting. They took their performances to another level. It was a very inspirational weekend for us and that carried over the rest of the season.'
At the Pac-10 Championships, Oregon State set school records 10 times and the Beavers finished eighth, 34.5 points behind seventh-place Washington. OSU set 13 school records at the Husky Invitational and five at the NCAAs for a total of 28 records in 13 different events. Members of the 2002-03 season held all but two school records at season's end.
'We've been priding ourselves on getting it done when it counts,' Podkoscielny said. 'Being able to perform well in the meets that we've trained for and hit on all cylinders when it counted became the trademark of our team. The expectations of the individuals became expectations of the team. When you put individuals on the same page as the team it makes performances special.
'I have never been more proud of a group of swimmers. I look forward to watching them swim in the upcoming years and seeing them fulfill their goals and taking a step to the next level.'
OSU TIES FOR 25TH AT NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS: Birte Steven earned All-America honors in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes and Naya Higashijima was All-American in the 200 butterfly as Oregon State finished in a tie for 25th place with 29 points. Steven finished sixth in the 200 breaststroke and 11th in the 100 breaststroke, and Higashijima finished eighth in the 200 butterfly.
HEAD COACH Mariusz Podkoscielny: Mariusz Podkoscielny completed his seven-season tenure as head coach at Oregon State, having turned the program around since arriving prior to the 1996-97 season. Under his leadership, the Beavers posted 4 straight winning dual meet seasons, going 33-16 for a .670 winning percentage since the start of the 1999-2000 season.
Podkoscielny stepped down after the season to become head coach at Miami (Fla.). Podkoscielny's teams had a dual meet record of 40-38 overall and 4-21 in the Pacific-10.
Podkoscielny, 35, 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.
SENIOR ALL-AMERICAN Naya Higashijima: Naya Higashijima led the Beavers in individual event victories in all 4 of her seasons at OSU, and in her career finished with 106 first-place finishes in dual meet and invitational competition. That's the most for a Beaver since women's swimming became a Pacific-10 sport in 1986-87.
Higashijima had a team-high 31 wins this season. As a freshman, she won 20 races, as a sophomore she won 24 and as a junior 31, including her first 20 individual races to start the season.
At the 2002 NCAAs, Higashijima wrapped up her OSU career with an eighth-place finish in the 200 butterfly to earn her second All-America honor. She also placed 35th in the 500 freestyle and 37th in the 400 individual medley. Higashijima broke her own school record in the 200 butterfly and is the school record holder in four other events.
Higashijima made her first trip to the NCAA Championships in 2002 as she qualified in the 500-yard 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-America honor.
JUNIOR ALL-AMERICAN Birte Steven: Birte Steven earned two All-America honors at the NCAAs for the second consecutive year, placing sixth in the 200 breaststroke and 11th in the 100 breaststroke. Steven's sixth-place finish is the best-ever for an OSU swimmer at the NCAAs.
In 2002, 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-yard breaststroke and her 11th-place finish in the 200 breaststroke at the 2002 NCAAs. Combined with her 2003 results and her 16th-place finish at the 2001 NCAAs in the 200 breastroke, Steven is OSU's first-ever 5-time All-American.
Steven has 74 first-place finishes in dual meet and invitational competition in her career at OSU. Steven finished this season with 27 wins. 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.
In May, Steven qualified for the University World Games as a member of the German National Team. Steven will compete in the 100- and 200-meter breaststrokes at the Games, which takes place late August in South Korea.
Steven was honored as the OSU Female Athlete of the Year for the 2002-03 season at the fifth annual Benny Awards in June.
OREGON STATE RECEIVES VOTES IN NATIONAL POLL: Oregon State received votes in the College Swimming Coaches Association of America Top 25 poll released Jan. 16; they did not receive votes in the Jan. 30, Feb. 13, or Feb. 27 polls. The Beavers first received votes in the Dec. 10 poll; it is believed to have been the first time OSU ever received votes in the national women's swimming poll. In the final poll of the season, the Pac-10 had 7 teams ranked in the top 25, led by Arizona at No. 6.
OREGON STATE WIN TOTALS: The Beavers' 12-3 dual meet record this season tied the school record for wins in a season set by the 1979-80 team.
This was the fourth consecutive year that OSU finished the dual meet season with a winning record; that matches the school's second-best streak from 1987-88 to 1990-91. The school record for consecutive winning seasons is seven (1977-78 to 1983-84). This is the fourth straight season, and the 10th ever, that an Oregon State team has recorded at least seven wins.
OSU has won 17 straight dual meets against non-league foes. The last non-league opponent to defeat the Beavers is California-Santa Barabara, which beat Oregon State 136-124 in the first meet of the 2001-02 season.
SENIORS CAREER RECORD: Seniors Paula Finlay, Naya Higashijima, Jillian McMinn and Suzanne Starkey helped Oregon State compile a 33-16 dual meet record during their careers. That mark (.670 winning percentage) is the best 4-year record since OSU joined the Pac-10 and NCAA swimming prior to the 1986-87 season.
MAKING THE GRADE: Paula Finlay, Jessie Hong and Birte Steven were selected to the Pacific-10's All-Academic first team, and Mari Embertson and Kristin Huston were named to the second team. Finlay earned the honor for the third year in a row, and Steven the second year in a row. Steven was also selected to the Verizon Women's Academic All-District VIII at-large second team. She was a member of the third team in 2002.
STEVENS NATATORIUM: Oregon State swims its home meets at Stevens Natatorium on the OSU campus. The Beavers went 4-0 at home in dual meets this season; it's the first time they've gone unbeaten for a season at Stevens Natatorium. OSU has an all-time record of 11-4 in the pool and OSU is 7-1 at home the past two seasons.
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 EVENT WINNERS: Naya Higashijima led OSU swimmers in individual event victories this season with 31 wins. A look at Beaver event winners for the 2002-03 season (exhibition wins as a non-scoring competitor in parentheses).
1. Naya Higashijima (2) 312. Birte Steven (4) 273. Kristin Huston 154. Suzanne Starkey (1) 105. Ausra Pacebutaite (1) 96. Kristi Kuhlmey 87. Monika Miroslaw 28. Paula Finlay 1(tie) Mari Embertson 1(tie) Jessie Hong 1(tie) Christina Kinney 1
BEAVERS REWRITING RECORD BOOK: Oregon State set 28 school records in 13 different events during the 2002-03 season. The Beavers set 13 records at the Husky Invitational, 10 at the Pacific-10 Conference Championships and five at the NCAA Championships.
1,000 FREESTYLE: Naya Higashijima, 9:56.74; Dec. 5. 400 MEDLEY RELAY: Ausra Pacebutaite, Birte Steven, Suzanne Starkey, Kristin Huston, 3:44.31; Dec. 6. 500 FREESTYLE: Naya Higashijima, 4:50.86; Dec. 6 (prelims). 500 FREESTYLE: Naya Higashijima, 4:50.76; Dec. 6 (finals). 200 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY: Birte Steven, 2:03.62; Dec. 6. 200 FREESTYLE RELAY: Kristin Huston, Suzanne Starkey, Ausra Pacebutaite, Paula Finlay, 1:35.66; Dec. 6. 100 BACKSTROKE: Suzanne Starkey, 56.51; Dec. 7. 100 BUTTERFLY: Suzanne Starkey, 55:76; Dec. 7. 100 BREAST: Birte Steven, 1:01.70; Dec. 7 (prelims). 100 BREAST: Birte Steven, 1:01.68; Dec. 7 (finals). 200 MEDLEY RELAY: Suzanne Starkey, Birte Steven, Christina Kinney, Kristin Huston, 1:42.98; Dec. 7. 200 BREAST: Birte Steven, 2:12.86; Dec. 8 (prelims). 200 BREAST: Birte Steven, 2:12.02; Dec. 8 (finals). 100 BUTTERFLY: Suzanne Starkey, 55:09; Feb. 27 (time trial). 200 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY: Birte Steven, 2:03.53; Feb. 27. 200 FREESTYLE RELAY: Kristin Huston, Suzanne Starkey, Ausra Pacebutaite, Paula Finlay, 1:34.61; Feb. 27. 400 MEDLEY RELAY: Ausra Pacebutaite, Birte Steven, Suzanne Starkey, Kristin Huston, 3:43.69; Feb. 27. 200 MEDLEY RELAY: Suzane Starkey, Birte Steven, Christina Kinney, Kristin Huston, 1:42.85; Feb. 28. 200 BREAST: Birte Steven, 2:11.75; March 1 (prelims). 200 BREAST: Birte Steven, 2:11.45; March 1 (finals). 1,650 FREESTYLE: Naya Higashijima, 16:27.59; March 1. 200 BACKSTROKE: Ausra Pacebutaite, 2:02.73; March 1. 400 FREESTYLE RELAY: Kristin Huston, Ausra Pacebutaite, Christina Kinney, Birte Steven, 3:27.44; March 1. 200 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY: Birte Steven, 2:01.98; March 20 (prelims). 100 BREAST: Birte Steven, 1:01.54; March 21 (prelims). 100 BREAST: Birte Steven, 1:01.39; March 21 (finals). 200 BREAST: Birte Steven, 2:09.96; March 22 (prelims). 200 BUTTERFLY: Naya Higashijima, 1:57.42; March 22 (prelims).
BEAVERS' PLACES ON SCHOOL TOP-10 LISTS: Members of OSU's 2002-2003 squad hold 62 of the 140 places on the list of the school's top 10 performers in each individual event. Current Beaver swimmers with entries on the OSU all-time leaders list through the completion of the 2002-03 season:
1. Naya Higashijima 82. Birte Steven 73. Suzanne Starkey 6(tie) Paula Finlay 65. Mari Embertson 4(tie) Kristin Huston 4(tie) Christina Kinney 4(tie) Danielle Kinney 4(tie). Kristi Kuhlmey 4(tie) Monika Miroslaw 411. Jessie Hong 3(tie) Ausra Pacebutaite 313. Leah Schaab 2(tie). Ashleigh Thomas 215. Jillian McMinn 1
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 list through the completion of the 2002-03 season:
50 FREESTYLE1. Amy van Loben Sels 23.11 19942. Kristin Huston 23.40 20034. Suzanne Starkey 23.84 20038. Ausra Pacebutaite 24.17 2003
200 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY1. Birte Steven 2:01.98 20032. Paula Finlay 2:04.27 20023. Christina Kinney 2:04.60 20034. Mari Embertson 2:05.31 20035. Naya Higahijima 2:06.72 20036. Monika Miroslaw 2:06.81 20038. Leah Schaab 2:07.99 2003
400 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY1. Naya Higashijima 4:18.98 20022. Mari Embertson 4:20.11 20023. Birte Steven 4:21.54 20024. Monika Miroslaw 4:21.55 20035. Leah Schaab 4:25.70 20037. Paula Finlay 4:28.30 20018. Jessie Hong 4:28.31 20029. Christina Kinney 4:30.19 2003
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