Sunday, March 31, 2002

Water, water everywhere - titles, too


College Update

By Shannon Russell, srussell@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Nicci Fusaro pulled her jacket tight and shivered, wishing she was anywhere but outside.

        It was early March in Tucson, Ariz. and it wasn't supposed to be cold. It wasn't supposed to be windy, either. Gusty gales tore through at 25 mph, lending an icy chill to the unseasonable 45-degree weather.

        Water dripped from Fusaro's hair. Her teeth chattered. When it was finally her turn again, she didn't know whether to groan or heave a relieved sigh.

        She quickly climbed to the top of the 10-meter platform in her gym shoes, sweatsuit and jacket. She shed layers until she was down to her swimming suit, throwing each article to a teammate below.

        “It was so awful I was crying,” Fusaro said. “I just wanted it to be over.”

        Fusaro, a University of Southern California sophomore diver, braced herself for her last platform dive of the Pacific 10 championship finals. She artfully executed her routine, finishing the 33-foot journey nearly flawlessly to claim the Trojans' first-ever platform conference title. Finally, relief. Not so much in the first-place finish, but in the comfort of the pool's heated water.

        “That was the savior, the water,” said Fusaro, who also won the Pac-10 3-meter springboard title and placed third on the 1-meter. “It was so tiring mentally, diving when it was windy and freezing. I could've done awful, but I knew I at least had to try.”

        Determination is what Fusaro knows best.

        Even as an Anderson High School student, Fusaro wasn't one to dismiss a challenge. She graduated in 2000 as a three-time prep All-American, a member of the U.S. National Team and a U.S Olympic Trials qualifier. She won two state diving championships; she never lost a dual meet.

        The college transition fueled her ambition, even though the workouts were overwhelming initially — six days a week instead of four, four hours a day instead of two. The payoff has shown in competition. Fusaro made her second trip to the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Austin, Texas, March 21-23, finishing fifth in platform, seventh in 3-meter and eighth in 1-meter. Southern Cal placed fourth as a team.

        Her confidence could be instrumental in April when she competes in the 3-meter and platform World Cup Trials, and later when she tries out for the 2004 Olympics.

        For Fusaro, the hardest part about diving is knowing her days are numbered.

        “I know I'm done after the 2004 (Olympic) Trials, because diving isn't something you can make a career or living out of. I'm busy all the time, because there are so many other things I want to do, and I try to make time for the things I like. It's hard,” Fusaro said.

        She has a 3.8 GPA and is majoring in fine arts, and someday she wants to be a fashion designer, but right now she'll do anything she can to dive.

        Olympian Erin Phenix, a junior at the University of Texas, feels the same way, although her preference is freestyle.

        Phenix graduated Ursuline Academy with 11 state titles. She's now an 11-time All-American.

        In February she dominated the Big 12 women's swimming championships, winning the 50 free, 100 free and four relays en route to the Longhorns' fourth straight conference title.

        Last weekend, Phenix helped Texas to sixth place in the NCAA Championships in Austin. She placed fifth in the 50 free and seventh in the 100 free; her relay teams finished in the top 10.

        She was happy to be competing in the championships, but she wasn't thrilled with her own results.

        “I didn't have one of my best meets. My times weren't close to my best times,” said Phenix, whose ultimate goal is winning an individual NCAA title.

        Phenix owns the fastest times among Texas teammates in the 50 free (22.59) and 100-free (49.15) and is third in the 200 free (1:48.37).

        Her crowning moment was being part of the gold medal-winning United States 400 free relay team in the 2000 Sydney Games. In two years she hopes to make an Olympic return, but her focus now is her kinesiology and psychology classwork. She has a two-week break after the NCAAs and soon will begin summer season training.

        Phenix, like Fusaro, doesn't want to spend too much time away from the pool.

        “When I was younger, I played a lot of sports, but I found out I couldn't do as many when I got to the high school age. Swimming was what I was best at,” Phenix said. "I think the best parts about it are the racing and competition.”

        ALSO:

        Hanover College junior Erin Matson (McAuley) won the Emory Invitational 10,000-meter run in 38:11.31 March 23, helping the women's track team to a 10th-place finish. Matson, the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference player of the week, qualified provisionally for the NCAA National Championships in the event.

        Senior goalkeeper Christy Hoffman (McAuley) was named the University of Cincinnati women's soccer MVP after rewriting Bearcat and Conference USA record books. Hoffman set records for shutouts in a season (14.5) and career (33) while establishing a new UC and C-USA best for lowest goals-against average in a season (0.58). UC coach Meridy Glenn announced that returning starters Heather Herweh (Ursuline), Stacey Kyser and Amy Simonson (Princeton) will be the 2002 captains.

        Senior baseball player Scott Hirsch (Colerain) has started all 15 of Wittenberg University's games and has posted a .480 batting average. He has collected two home runs, 17 runs scored, 11 RBI and six stolen bases while batting primarily in the leadoff position. Christy Schneider (Fairfield) is batting .333 for the Wittenberg softball team, leading the team in runs scored (20) and tying for most doubles with six.

       



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