From Paul Dodson at FIU
MIAMI (Sept. 29, 2016) – The 2015-16 FIU swimming and diving season was one of the most-successful years in team history. The team won its second-straight Conference USA title, dominated the league’s postseason awards, while breaking a number of school records. On Friday, Sept. 30, the Panthers will turn the page and start a new chapter in the swimming and diving program’s history book with a trip to Coral Gables to face the University of Miami at 6 p.m.
“Our primary goal heading into the season, is to win our conference title,” Horner said. “Everything from now until then will prepare us to be at our best by the end of the season. Starting out against Miami on Friday is a great way to get the season going. You have a cross-town rival that brings out the best in us and we are definitely going bring out the best in them.”
The Panthers, who ended the year ranked No. 39 nationally by collegeswimming.com, will face the Hurricanes for the third-straight year. FIU took 2-of-3 from UM during that time, including a 122-83 victory in October of last season.
19 Returning Athletes
The Panthers return 19 athletes from a year in which FIU won its second-straight C-USA title with a dominant performance during the C-USA Championships last February. Scoring the second-most points (954) in championship history, FIU produced the most-decisive win in C-USA history defeating second-place Rice by 318 points. The Panthers won 28 total medals, including 15 gold, and set seven school records.
During the year, FIU claimed 11 C-USA weekly awards (Swimmer and Diver of the Week), while sweeping the weekly awards four times. The Panthers won eight dual meets last season, including wins over Conference USA foes Rice (133-90) and Florida Atlantic (138-62 and 138-87), as well as, ranked opponents Kansas (No. 44) (150.50-148.50) and Miami (No. 24) (122-83).
“I think that this year’s team is going to be better than what we had last year,” Horner said. “I think part of that is going to be from our returners. We have a lot of good freshman and a lot of bright spots coming in, but across the board, after the first month of training, every returner on our team is doing things in practice that are pushing us to the next level. That is something they didn’t do in the previous year.”
Along with the number of returners to this year’s team, FIU has a talented group of newcomers entering the year, including diver Brooke Bouchard (gold medalist in the 2016 Manitoba Provincial Diving Championships and Senior Nationals qualifier for 2017) and freestyler Megan Bowen (a two-time British Nationals medalist in 2015 and 2016).
With all of the success the team has had these past few years, Coach Horner knows that the team can’t rest on their laurels.
“We have to stay hungry, to continue to set a higher goal,” Horner stated. “I feel like the conference championship isn’t our only goal this season. It’s key for us to not have that as our only goal every year. One of our hashtags we have this year is #cusaandbeyond, and the meaning behind that is we want to aim beyond Conference USA. We obviously want that to be a goal, but we want to qualify more individuals for the NCAAs. We want to get a relay in the NCAAs, which we have not done yet in the history of the program. We want to get back on the scoreboard at the NCAA championships. As long as we keep focusing on things we haven’t achieved before, then we will stay hungry, keep fighting and keep getting better.”
Last Year’s Qualifiers
FIU did go beyond the C-USA championship last year as Naomi Ruele, the reigning C-USA Swimmer of the Year and Rebecca Quesnel, the reigning C-USA Diver of the Year, both qualified for the NCAA. Ruele made her first NCAA appearance, qualifying for the 50 Free with a school-record 22.23 during the C-USA Championships. Quesnel became the first diver in FIU history to qualify for the NCAA Championships, earning a spot in the platform program with a fifth-place finish during the Zone B Diving Platform Finals.
Ruele topped that, qualifying for the Olympics in Rio in the 50-meter free for her home country of Botswana.
“Anytime you have an athlete that goes to the Olympics, it gives credibility to the program,” Horner said. “I had the honor to go with her as well which was another credit to the program. Anytime we get the team and our program out in the press with the word ‘Olympics’ in the same sentence, that’s a positive thing for us. We have a lot of girls on our team that have that ambition, that goal, that dream and a lot of our recruits in the future that have the same. It’s definitely something that helps us build to where we are trying to go with the team.”
Continuing to build the program begins on Friday and Coach Horner and the Panthers are thrilled to get the season underway.
“We are very excited,” Horner stated. “This first month and a half was just painstaking. The team just trained and trained and trained and now we want to see what we’ve got. It’s almost like you got a new toy and you want take it outside and play with it. We’ve got some freshman we want to see race. We’ve got returners we feel like have improved. We never really know what the team is all about until we see them in competition, how they react and how they come together. We are definitely excited to get things started and start our journey.”