The University of Nevada swimming and diving team made history Saturday at the 2016 Mountain West Championships, overcoming a 39.5 point deficit with three events remaining to secure the program’s first MW title in heroic fashion. Head coach Neil Harper and the Wolf Pack stormed past Boise State late Saturday at the Texas A&M Natatorium, topping the field with team 664 points.
After four finals Saturday, Nevada sat in second place with 542 points while Boise State led by nearly 40 points with 581.5 team points and three events remaining. The Wolf Pack feverishly rallied back, placing first and fourth in the 200-yard butterfly, placing first, second and fourth in the platform dive and finishing runner-up in the 400-yard medley relay to stun the field.
The Wolf Pack closed the regular season with an undefeated 10-0 dual record and were selected as the meet co-favorites along with Boise State in the Pre-Championship Coaches’ Poll. Nevada led the MW Championships after day one with 129 points, led after day two with 284 points and trailed the Broncos by 11.5 points after day three. The Pack’s dazzling final-day comeback clinched the program’s first MW title after placing third in 2015 and 2014 and fifth in 2013.
The championship marks Nevada’s first Mountain West title in program history and the second overall MW title in the athletic department’s history. The Wolf Pack also secured its first conference title since 2009 and its ninth conference title all-time.
“These ladies have worked their tails off to reach this goal and on top of that, they’ve worked hard in the classroom and in the community,” said head coach Neil Harper. “This is a well-earned title and I couldn’t be more proud of this team. This is an amazing group of individuals that have come together to make an amazing team. They are self-less and they do whatever it takes for each other. I think they’re the best ambassadors you can find of the athletic department and of our university.”
Saturday’s finals session began with the 1,650-yard freestyle relay, where freshman Antonia Baerens led Nevada by advancing to the A finals. Baerens then swam a personal-best time of 16:36.47, placing fourth with the fourth-best time in program history.
The Wolf Pack advanced two student-athletes to the A finals of the 200-yard backstroke as sophomore Kate Hofmeyer and freshman Caitlyn Richardson led Nevada in the event. Hofmeyer placed fifth in 1:57.32, the second-best time in program history, and Richardson placed eighth in 1:58.77 while both set NCAA ‘B’ qualifying marks.
Freshman Rebecca Murray advanced to the A finals in the 100-yard freestyle before swimming the second-fastest time in program history and placing fifth in 49.46. Junior Teresa Baerens placed 13th (50.25) and sophomore Emma Payne placed 16th (50.77).
Senior Yawen Li then won her third-consecutive 200-yard breaststroke title, touching the wall first in 2:10.58 to add her second meet title after winning the 400-yard IM on Friday. Li has won three straight 200 breaststroke and 400 IM conference titles to highlight her decorated collegiate career. Junior Arantxa Medina-Alegria also placed third (2:13.33) and junior Riley Hilbrandt (2:14.55) placed fifth. All three of Nevada’s finalists in the event set NCAA ‘B’ qualifying times.
Junior Sita Kusserow then strengthened Nevada’s comeback, winning her first conference title. Kusserow won the 200-yard butterfly in 1:58.68, setting a personal best and the third-fastest time in program history. Senior Erin Fuss also advanced to the finals and placed fourth overall with a season-best time of 2:00.81.
Nevada trailed Boise State by 10.5 points entering the second-to-last event of the meet; the platform dive finals. The Wolf Pack dominated the event – as it has all diving events since joining the conference – as senior Krysta Palmer won the title with 362.15 points. After the meet, Palmer was named MW Diver of the Year for the second straight season. Additionally, freshman Zoe Lei placed runner-up (278) and freshman Sharae Zheng placed fourth (248.6). Head diving coach Jian Li You was named MW Diving Coach of the Year for the fourth straight season. Li You has won seven diving coach of the year honors in her storied coaching career.
Once trailing by 40 points earlier in the day, the Wolf Pack led Boise State, 629-611.5, with one event remaining; the 400-yard freestyle relay. Richardson, Payne, Murray and Baerens then capped Nevada’s epic performance with a school record, touching the wall in 3:18.16 to place runner-up and secure the team title.
The Wolf Pack finished with 664 points, setting a program record for most points in the MW Championship. Boise State placed second with 651, while San Diego State placed third with 511 points. Wyoming (457), UNLV (373), San Jose State (258), New Mexico (248), Colorado State (223), Air Force (207) and Fresno State (182) round out the standings.
“We’re in the middle of Texas right now, but we feel so much love from the community and from the athletic department and we’re all incredible thankful for that,” said Harper. “It’s been a great team and family effort this week and season. We’re proud to be the Mountain West Champions and we’re proud to be the Nevada Wolf Pack.”
Nevada will now set its sights on NCAA competition. The NCAA Zone E Diving Regionals are set for March 7-9 in Flagstaff, Ariz. The 2016 NCAA Championships will be March 17-19 in Atlanta, Ga.
2016 Mountain West Championships
Final Team Standings
1. Nevada, 664
2. Boise State, 651
3. San Diego State, 511
4. Wyoming, 457
5. UNLV, 373
6. San Jose State, 258
7. New Mexico, 248
8. Colorado State, 223
9. Air Force, 207
10. Fresno State, 182
Nevada MW Championship Individual Awards
Jian Li You, Diving Coach of the Year
Krysta Palmer, Diver of the Year
Nevada Event Titles
1-meter springboard, Sharae Zheng
3-meter springboard, Sharae Zheng
400-yard IM, Yawen Li
200-yard breaststroke, Yawen Li
200-yard butterfly, Sita Kusserow
Platform dive, Krysta Palmer
Nevada Conference Titles
2015, Mountain West Champions
2009, WAC Champions
2008, WAC Champions
2007, WAC Champions
2000, Big West Conference Champions
1999, Big West Conference Champions
1998, Big West Conference Champions
1997, Big West Conference Champions
1996, Big West Conference Champions
Head coach Neil Harper – Quoted
“These women are an amazing group of individuals that have come together to make an amazing team. They are self-less and they do whatever it takes for each other. I think they’re the best ambassadors you can find of the athletic department and of our university. These ladies have worked their tails off to reach this goal and on top of that, they’ve worked hard in the class and in the community. This is a well-earned title and I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”
On winning the title in comeback fashion…
“We knew Boise State would surge and take the lead, but we knew that we trusted who we had left. We knew we had three swimmers in the 200 breast finals, two swimmers in the 200 fly finals, three divers in the platform finals and a strong relay left. The great thing is that everyone contributed. Every point mattered and we received contributions from everyone today.”
On his thoughts on this season in his first-year at Nevada…
“I knew this type of opportunity existed when I first contacted Doug (Knuth) and Rhonda (Bennett). I knew we had incredible potential with this team’s talent and my coaching experience. What I learned is that this team also had the heart and desire to be champions. It’s been an incredible season. I’ve tried to energize the team and the team has energized me. We’ve had fun and have believed in each other all season long. We’re in the middle of Texas right now but we feel so much love from the community and campus right now and we’re incredibly thankful for that. We’re proud to be the Mountain West Champions and we’re proud to be the Nevada Wolf Pack.”
On the team’s focus and goals remaining…
“We’ll set our sights on NCAA competition. We’ll take a look and see what swimmers and relays made it to NCAAs and our divers will also go to zones. It’s also an Olympic year, so we have several athletes with Olympic trails looming. We’ve laid the foundation here to look for more success in the future.”
Nevada Press Release