Freshman Jessica Ward will compete in three events at the NCAA Swimming and Diving National Championship meet March 20-23 at Conroe Natatorium in Shenandoah, Texas.
She will be competing in the 100- and 200-yard backstrokes as well as the 200-yard individual medley, according to the unofficial qualification lists released this week.
Ward qualified on time for both her backstroke events, but is entered in the IM because of a provision that allows swimmers to compete in up to three events if they qualify for one.
Ward said she was concerned at the start of the season that she would not swim as fast as she did in high school.
“I was really nervous at the beginning of the year… I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to swim fast times,” Ward said.
Now that she has become more comfortable, she said her primary goal for the rest of the season is to swim personal bests at the national meet.
Head coach Richard Hawes said he has known Ward since she was 10 years old and it “definitely” helped her transition to college-level swimming.
Hawes said Ward has had success earlier than most quality swimmers do at the college level.
“Typically it takes two to three years to get there,” Hawes said.
Hawes said that the relatively new Meek Aquatic Center has definitely made a difference in recruiting quality student-athletes.
“Students are no longer turned away from the facilities,” Hawes said. “We would draw interest from several good student-athletes in the past… they’d come visit here, then they’d visit places like Kenyon with better facilities and we’d lose them.”
Hawes also said that students are mostly drawn to a school because of its own quality, but bad athletic facilities can hurt their chance of enrolling.
Looking to the meet, Ward has a chance to become the first female swimmer from OWU to win All-America honors in over 15 years.
To earn outright All-America honors, a swimmer must finish in the top eight in a given event. Those who finish ninth through 16th are given All-American honorable mentions.
The last female swimmer from OWU to earn an honorable mention was Laura Marean in 1997, when she finished 12th in the 100 backstroke.
The only OWU female swimmer to earn outright All-America honors as an individual was Jen Schiller, who coincidentally won the award for the three events in which Ward is competing this year. She won a total of four All-America awards.
The event in which Ward is seeded highest is the 100 backstroke, where she is seeded sixth. Should she hold that place, it would mark the second-highest finish in an individual event in the national meet by a female OWU swimmer.
Schiller presently has the highest finish by an OWU woman, finishing fourth in the 100 backstroke in 1988.
Ward has set school records in both backstroke events this season, turning in efforts of :55.67 in the 100 backstroke and 2:02.47 in the 200 backstroke. She also set school records in the 100 butterfly (:58.23) and in the 100 freestyle, touching in :53.08 as part of the 400 freestyle relay team at the North Coast Athletic Conference championship meet.