FGCU Claims Hard-Fought Win Against Liberty


Photo: FGCU Athletics

From FGCU Athletics

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Despite a two-and-a-half-hour weather delay and abbreviated warmup session prior to the meet, the #34 FGCU swimming and diving team was able to overcome less-than-ideal conditions and defeat CCSA-rival Liberty, 137-125, Saturday at the rain-soaked FGCU Aquatics Center.

With Saturday marking the final dual against a conference opponent this season, the Eagles, who improved to 9-3 overall and 3-0 against CCSA competition, are now 35-1 all-time conference opponents. It was also the Green and Blue’s sixth straight dual win against Liberty, who fell to 5-2 on the season with a 1-1 mark in conference.

After one tie and five lead changes through 12 events during the meet, Elizabeth Zeiger (Cumberland, R.I./Homeschool) appeared to all but wrap things up with a win in the 400 IM, but everything came down to the 200 free relay after Zeiger was disqualified from the event for an illegal touch. Then, with a three-point lead going into the final event, FGCU’s school-record-holding quartet of Katie Latham (Deal, Kent, UK/Sir Roger Manwood’s School), Gracie Redding (Orlando, Fla./FSU/The First Academy), Hannah Burdge (Stuart, Fla./Martin County HS) and Fanny Teijonsalo (Espoo, Finland/Makelanrinteen Lukio) put the finishing touches on the meet as they out-touched Liberty by 0.60 seconds with a time of 1:33.49.

“It was obviously less than ideal racing conditions with the rain and delay, but we talked with the team about just getting up and racing,” said FGCU head coach Dave Rollins. “It’s not about what your time is at the end of the race. It’s about your effort and what you can control. The conditions were the same for both teams, and we just did the best we could with the shortened warmups and getting the team ready to go.”

The Eagles got off to a slow start after dropping the opening 400 medley relay to the Flames, but back-to-back wins from Zeiger in the 1000 free and Burdge in the 200 free gave FGCU its first lead of the afternoon at 30-25 through three events. Zeiger’s time of 10:13.39 in the distance event was 17 seconds faster than Liberty’s Delia Weber and her second-best effort of the season. Additionally, Burdge clocked a time of 1:53.18 in the 200 free and out-touched teammate Linda Shaw (Leeds, UK/Roundhay HS) by less than a second to finish first and second in the event and push the Green and Blue ahead.

However, Liberty finished first in each of the next four races – 100 back, 100 breast, 200 fly and 50 free – to assume a 69-62 lead heading into the first break of the day.

Coming out of the 10-minute intermission, FGCU reclaimed the lead with another pair of back-to-back wins from Burdge in the 100 free and senior captain Sandra Wilk (Lexington, Ky./Paul Laurence Dunbar HS) in the 200 back. Also helping the comeback cause were teammates Latham and Georgiana Gardner (York, Maine/York HS), who finished third in each of the events, respectively. Again, though, Liberty responded with first- and second-place finishes in the 200 breast and first- and third-place finishes in the 500 free to take a 107-100 lead through 11 events.

Lead by school-record-holder Christina Kaas Elmgreen (Charlottenlund, Denmark. Ordrup Gymnasium) and Madison Jean (Parrish, Fla./Lakewood Ranch HS), FGCU turned in a huge performance in the 100 fly as five Eagles finished in the top-six of the event and the Green and Blue reclaimed the lead and continued its back-and-fourth battle with the Flames. The aforementioned FGCU duo finished first and second and combined for an ever-important 13 points in the event.

After the second and final 10-minute break of the day, Liberty’s Alicia Finnigan won the 400 IM after Zeiger’s disqualification and drew the Flames closer. However, FGCU’s Barbara Caraballo (Ponce, Puerto Rico/Indian River State/Newsome HS), Yee Ching Wong (Hong Kong, China/Diocesan Girls’ School) and Hannah Wittman (Jupiter, Fla./Pittsburgh/Central Bucks East HS) matched Finnigan’s nine-point win as they finished second through fourth in the event.

It was then time for the Eagles’ 200 free relay to cap off the afternoon and maintain its conference dominance that it has asserted during much of the last nine-plus seasons with Liberty right on its heels. FGCU and Liberty have combined to win each of the past eight CCSA Championships while also finishing first or second at the conference meet in each of the last five seasons. The Eagles have won seven of the past eight CCSA crowns, including a streak of five straight from 2009-13 and each of the last two championships. Liberty stepped in and won the title over the Green and Blue in 2014 – the only year since 2009 a program other than FGCU has won the championship – and finished runner-up behind the Eagles in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

FGCU gets into its home stretch of the regular season by hosting in-state rival Miami at the FGCU Aquatics Center Saturday, Jan. 21 at 12 p.m. A year ago, the Eagles traveled across the state and earned a 166-111 win against the Hurricanes.