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Swim team looks for breakthrough
by John C. Chao
thresher staff

christina tran/thresher
Junior Jordan Hollsten works on her backstroke in practice. Hollsten hopes to improve on her eighth-place finish in the 100-meter backstroke at last year's Western Athletic Conference Championships.

The annual Blue and Gray intrasquad meet kicked off the 2000-'01 swimming season two weekends ago, and the Owls hope to use the meet as a springboard to yet another successful season.

But an even better springboard took place over the summer, when six Rice swimmers participated in the U.S. Olympic Trials.

While none of the Owls actually qualified for the Olympic team, they think the experience of being there will help them improve on last year's third-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference.

"The trials were a very big step for me, and I was very excited about the experience," junior Katie Scholl said. "Now I know I can compete with the big dogs."

Junior Beth Williams also believes that competing in the trials will have a positive influence on her season - and her performance in the Blue and Gray meet Oct. 14 reflected her improvement.

Williams captured the 200-meter individual medley and the 200-meter breaststroke and was part of the 800-meter freestyle relay that set a new pool record.

"The trials really got me more excited about the season," she said. "It was motivation for me to train harder over the remainder of the summer."

This year, which officially gets under way with two meets in North Carolina this weekend, looks promising in part because two-fifths of the team swam in the trials. Because they've already had exposure to such high-caliber competition, the Owls are aspiring to another lofty goal - sending swimmers to this year's NCAA Championships.

"I see NCAAs in the future for more than one person here," Scholl said. "Although it is a high goal, we would be disappointed if none of us made it."

The addition of five freshmen makes the team much younger than last year's squad, and the Owls think their youthful energy should only make the team stronger. In fact, coach Doug Boyd, entering his third year at Rice, believes the closeness of the team will more than make up for the loss of two swimmers to graduation.

"It's my philosophy that team chemistry can make up for some talent," Boyd said. "This definitely makes us better this year than we were last year."

One of the freshmen Boyd hopes will contribute immediately is Toni Ciffolilli. Ciffolilli, who attended high school in Australia, knows the team has big expectations for her.

So far, Boyd said, she has not disappointed. Ciffolilli placed second in the 200-meter breaststroke and third in the 200-meter individual medley in the Blue and Gray meet.

Ciffolilli said the transition to swimming and life at Rice has not been too difficult.

"In Australia I swam meters, but here it's yards," she said. "But my times here are just as good as the other girls in my field."

Although she has not been with the team long, Ciffolilli has also noticed its unity.

"At home, there's not the camaraderie there is here," she said. "I'm loving the closeness that we have for each other."

After steadily improving during Boyd's first two years as head coach, the team is looking for a breakout season. For the upperclassmen, including two seniors and five juniors, nothing would be sweeter than getting off to a strong start this weekend.

The Owls will face two teams that were ranked in the top 25 last year, beginning with today's dual meet at North Carolina State University.

Tomorrow Rice will travel down Tobacco Road to take on the University of North Carolina.

"The motto of this season will be to be start strong and not fade out," Williams said. "We need to go out there and make a name for Rice, starting this weekend."

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