Beavers look to continue rise in swimming ranks as 2004-05 season begins.

Oct. 20, 2004

Corvallis, Ore. -

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In his first year at the helm of Oregon State's women's swimming team, head coach Larry Liebowitz led the Beavers to a record-setting 20th-place at last year's NCAA Championships. As he enters his second year at OSU, Liebowitz wants to continue the theme of incremental improvements by taking the team higher in the national standings.

'The long-range goal is to make it into the top 15,' Liebowitz said.'In order to do that we have to qualify our relays, so one of our specific goals for this season is to qualify our relays.'

A season-ending finish in the national top 25 would represent the third straight finish among the nation's leaders and truly distinguish Oregon State as an upper-echelon program.

The Beavers should have no problems picking up where they left off, as they return 13 letterwinners from last season when they went 7-4 in dual meets and tied their highest-ever finish at the Pacific-10 Championships at seventh place.

'I'm real optimistic because we only lost one girl to graduation last year and that brings the majority back, so they have a little more understanding of what I am like as a coach,' Liebowitz said. 'I was able to start off more aggressive this year.'

The one graduate was Birte Steven, a seven-time All-American who placed second in the 200-meter breaststroke and third in the 100 breastroke at the 2004 NCAA Championships and competed in the Olympics. But leading the list of returnees is senior All-American Mari Embertson, who placed seventh in the 400 individual medley at the NCAA championships.

'She had an amazing year last year,' Liebowitz said of Embertson. 'It was really a breakthrough year. She went from a non-qualifier at the NCAA Championships to being in the top eight. The goal for her would be to achieve a top-three finish in her best event, the 400 IM.'

Also back are nine other swimmers who scored at the Pac-10 meet: senior Kristin Huston; juniors Christina Kinney, Monika Miroslaw, Ausra Pacebutaite, Leah Schaab and Ashley Thomas; and sophomores Brie Marhenke and Sandy Hong. Liebowitz sees several of those women becoming major contributors and being close to breaking through to earn an NCAA qualifying time.

'There are so many of those girls in the junior class who really have the capability to making it to the NCAA Championships and they are going to have to do that for us.' Liebowitz said. 'I would say Christina, Monica, and Icy (Pacebutaite) are all looking really good right now.

'Tex (Kristen Huston), a senior, has been has been knocking on the door for three years now and I am hoping this is going to be her break through year.'

Embertson and Huston both made the championship finals at last season's Pacific-10 Champioships, as Embertson placed fourth in the 400 IM and Huston tied for sixth in the 50 freestyle.

Also scoring in individual events at the Pac-10 meet for the Beavers were Embertson (200 breast, 10th), Steven (200 IM, 16th), Pacebutaite (100 back, 13th; 200 back, 16th), Christina Kinney (100 fly, 14th; 200 fly, 17th), Miroslaw (200 fly, 14th; 400 IM, 20th), Sandy Hong (1,650 free, 19th), Huston (100 free, 21st; 200 free, 24th), Marhenke (50 free, 22nd), Schaab (400 IM, 23rd; 200 breast, 24th) and Danielle Kinney (1,650 free, 24th).

Liebowitz also sees major contributions being made by several of the nine freshmen joining the team this fall. Felicia Castenada and Courtney Eads both qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer.

'Felicia Castenada, who's an Oregon girl, should be an NCAA qualifier this season,' Liebowitz said of the breaststroker from Gresham's Barlow High. 'Courtney, who was second at the U.S. Nationals (in the 200 butterfly), should also be an NCAA qualifier.'

Adding the talented freshmen to the already solid returning group from last season makes the Beavers potent and poised for success in 2004-05.

'It's a good, good team,' Liebowitz said. 'It has depth and we havepeople in every event.'

Scheduling changes brought on by Liebowitz have increased the difficulty of the Beavers' dual meets this year. Adding difficult Pac-10 opponents Arizona, Arizona State and California will be a milestone for the program's progress and a challenging opportunity for the swimmers to improve.

'The changes that I made this year, which I think are going to help us at the Pac-10 meet and at the NCAA meet, are the teams we are playing in duel meets.' Liebowitz added.

When they're out of the pool and in the classroom, the Beavers take pride in their studies. Last season, OSU ranked 13th in the nation for its team grade point average of 3.36.

'No team beat us in the classroom that beat us in the NCAAs,' Liebowitz said.

This cohesive group could make some noise this year in collegiate swimming.

'I think this is a real sturdy group,' Liebowitz said. 'They are a close team.'

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