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UH swimmers will take the plunge at NCAAs

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After getting shut out of the NCAA championships for four years, University of Hawaii swimming scored this year with sophomores Taylor Ritenberg and Luka Mazzurana joining diver Emma Friesen at nationals.

Taylor Ritenberg:
Qualified for nationals in the 200 breaststroke and also will swim the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM

Friesen, a senior from Canada, is now 4-for-4 in NCAA at-bats. She qualified as a freshman, won the 2008 1-meter diving title as a sophomore and was third the year after. She red-shirted last year with injuries, but will be at the diving pool in Austin, Texas, beginning today.

Ritenberg, from Australia, is the first UH swimmer to qualify since Nicole Mackey in 2007. Ritenberg broke Jeanne Childs’ UH records in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke at the WAC championships. Childs set those in 1983 while becoming the only UH swimmer to win NCAA titles.

Ritenberg will also swim in the 200 IM at the NCAAs.

Mazzurana, from Italy, will be in the 100 and 200 butterfly and 200 IM at next week’s NCAA men’s championships. He won the 100 fly at the 2009 U.S. Open, while breaking the Italian record.

Senior Ilia Reyes came up six-one hundredths of a second short of joining Mazzurana in Minneapolis. Reyes, who came from Kaunakakai as a walk-on freshman, qualified for the Olympic Trials last summer, along with teammate Perry Sharify. The Molokai captain is also responsible for teaching the men’s team chants, including the haka, that they use for inspiration. Hawaii coach Victor Wales said meet directors planned around the Rainbows chants this season because opponents were intrigued.

The UH program’s history goes back to 1920, when professor Harold Palmer first took students to Waikiki for instruction. Ninety years ago, the dedication of UH’s first pool featured a freestyle exhibition with Duke Kahanamoku.

Luka Mazzurana:
Is the Italian record-holder in the 100 fly and will swim three events at the NCAAs next week

Over the years names such as A.E. "Toots" Minvielle Jr., Clarence "Buster" Crabbe, Keo Nakama, William Richardson, Charles Marsland, Soichi Sakamoto, 1956 gold medalist Shelly Mann and 1968 bronze-medal diver Keala O’Sullivan were part of the program.

Now there is more medal material in Manoa. Friesen, Ritenberg and Mazzurana all have legitimate shots at making their Olympic teams.

"For Taylor, every time she swims it’s a lifetime best because they don’t swim yards in Australia," Wales said. "Now she says once I learn how to race, learn strategy … and I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, you’re going to be really good.

"This year will be a learning experience for her at the NCAAs, so she’s really excited she made it because she can go in and get experience as a sophomore.

"Luka is the same way. He’s still got two more seasons left. That’s huge. This year they have the possibility of making consolation finals or maybe getting into the (top) 16, but I think that will change very rapidly when they come home and start training for next year. They not only have the ability to make their Olympic teams, but they have the ability to vie for a national title."

Ritenberg agrees with Wales’ long-term perspective, at least in one area.

"This is only my fourth yard meet," she says. "I’m just trying to get the race right, work on all the little things at the turn. If you look at big goals, you tend to look past the little things. I need to look at the little things. They usually end up helping you out in the long run."

The UH men just won their first Conference USA championship, with Mazzurana earning swimmer of the meet a second straight year. Thomas Rugg was diver of the meet. Mazzurana won three golds, setting meet and UH records in the 200 fly.

Emma Friesen:
Won the NCAA 1-meter diving event as a sophomore in 2008 and took third the following year

The Rainbow Wahine bumped up from sixth to second in the WAC. With Boise State gone next year, their goal is to capture the title in their final try, just as the men did this year (the men will compete as independents next season before joining the Big West).

The Wahine will have three talented redshirts to help, including Punahou graduate Rachel Cote, who transferred home from Pepperdine.

"If you look at the program as a whole, this is our best year," said Wales, who started here in 2006. "The numbers are where they need to be. We have a full squad of men and women. Academically, our team (of 57) is averaging 35 scholar-athletes the last two years. We have been academic All-American our last two years. The training is at the highest level we’ve had since I’ve been here. We built our own weight room last January, so this is the first year we’ve done all our strength training in our own facility. And we did it all without a locker room all year.

"When this last project is done, the program will be where it should be and the facility will be where it should be and we will be able to represent Hawaii as champions. This falls at a really good time. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be going into the Big West. It’s where I grew up. It’s an amazing conference. It will be huge for our program."

What Friesen, Ritenberg and Mazzurana have done is also huge. This week and next, it could become even bigger.

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