BOSTON, Mass. -- The Simmons College women's swimming & diving squad will compete in the four-day New England Intercollegiate Swimming & Diving Association Championship on Thursday, February 15 at host University of Rhode Island's Tootell Aquatics Center in Kingston, R.I.
The Sharks are one of 21 schools, who will vie for the championship this weekend. The meet is restricted to just 18 competitive entrants per team with divers counting as a half entry, enabling Simmons to bring 19 competitors to URI to fill the maximum number of spots for the fifth straight year.
The Sharks are a major contender for the NEISDA crown after finishing second a year ago and placing third in the previous three years in 2014-16.
Simmons features three seniors, five juniors, four sophomores and seven first years at this year's meet, including five swimmers, who have finished either first or second in NEISDA Championship individual events during their respective careers.
The Sharks' depth has been a key to their success and fuels their prowess in relay events. Simmons heads into the four-day meet as the favorite in the 800 and 400-yard freestyle relays after winning four of five relays in last year's meet.
"I'm very excited about the breadth of events that our team will be competitive in," said Simmons Swimming & Diving Head Coach Mindy Williams. "We are bringing a very well-rounded squad. It will be fun to see what these athletes can do. There's no question that this team has put the work in, now it's just a matter of being focused and hungry to finish out the season."
Senior Natalie Giraldi (Bedford, N.H.) was a dual champion in 2017, winning both the 50 and 100-yard breaststroke events to become just the third competitor in school history to win multiple events in one NEISDA Championship. She is one of six Sharks to be seeded among the top three in all of her events and is the most prolific breaststroker in school annals, holding school records in the 50, 100 and 200-yard races in addition to owning the school standard in the 100-yard individual medley and being part of Simmons record-holding relay squads in the 200 and 400-yard medley relays as well as the 400-yard freestyle relay. Giraldi captured both the 50 and 100-yard breaststroke titles, while breaking her own school and pool record in the 50-yard race at the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Championship in early December.
Sophomore transfer Aine Scholand (Albuquerque, N.M.) makes her debut at NEISDA this year with great anticipation. The West Coast native swam for Division I Evansville University last year and has emerged as one of the top distance swimmers in all of Division III this season after obliterating the school and pool record for the 1650-yard freestyle at the GNAC Championship. Her time of 17:08.68 still ranks as the sixth-fastest this season of any Division III swimmer this season. Scholand also won the 200-yard freestyle at the GNAC Championship and placed first in the 500-yard freestyle with a school-record effort.
Senior Michaela Morris (Duxbury, Mass.), juniors Kerry Fleming (Northampton, Mass.) and Laura Simpson (Perkiomenville, Pa.) and sophomore Laura List (Bedford, Mass.) all posted second-place showing at the 2017 NEISDA Championship and will be threats to win again this year. Simpson was a double-winner in 2016, taking both the 500 and 1000-yard freestyle events and placed second in last year's 500 and 1650 races to go with a third-place effort in the 1000. The junior has posted 20 top-three efforts this year, including a pair of second-place finishes at the GNAC Championship in the 500 and 1650-yard freestyle events. She heads to Kingston with Simmons record for the 1000-yard freestyle. Fleming, along with Scholand and Simpson arguably gives the Sharks the most imposing distance triple-threat at NEISDA this year. The junior studied abroad during the fall semester, but has returned to form in the second semester. She finished second in the 200 and 1000-yard freestyle events last year at NEISDA to go with a third-place finish in the 500-yard freestyle. Fleming is one of the team's most versatile swimmers with wins in the 50 and 200-yard backstroke, the 100-yard individual medley and the 100-yard freestyle since her return to the States. Morris usually saves her best for the biggest meets, having placed second and third in the 50 and 100-yard butterfly events, respectively, last year at NEISDA. She is a top-three seed in all of her events this year and won the 100-yard butterfly at the GNAC Championship in December, while topping her own school record to take the 50-yard butterfly as well and will be a key contributor to the team's medley relay squads. List placed second in the 100-yard freestyle and third in the 50-yard freestyle in last year's NEISDA title meet. She has consistently been one of the team's top sprinters and has placed either first or second in 10 of 14 races that she's entered this year, including three wins in the 100-yard freestyle.
Newcomers Maria Soraghan (East Hampstead, N.H.) and Sara Manjikian (Belmont, Mass.) go into their first NEISDA title meet with top three seeds in all of their respective events. Soraghan has already established herself as one of the top swimmers in New England, having been named the GNAC Rookie of the Week five times. The first year tied for the most points at the GNAC Championship after winning the 50 and 100-yard freestyle events to go with second-place efforts in the 200-yard freestyle and 50-yard backstroke. She has 21 top-three finishes this year, including a dozen victories. Manjikian has gained a foothold as a top diver in New England after recently taking up the sport. The former gymnast burst onto the scene after winning the three-meter title with a GNAC-record point total in December. The rookie has qualified for both boards to join sophomore Cristina Samaniego (Avon, Conn.). Samaniego has consistently been one of the top divers in each meet she's competed in this year with eight top-three showings. The second-year diver has knocked on the door of the 200-point mark with 190-plus point efforts on both boards and placed third on both the one and three-meter boards at the GNAC Championship.
Junior Jason Erichsen (Banks, Ore.) along with first years Anna Leedham (Lowell, Mass.) and Haley Summers (Hudson, N.H.) go into the meet with at least one top-eight seed within their individual events. Erichsen is enjoying an outstanding season, posting career-best times in every event entered this season. The third-year swimmer has been named GNAC Athlete of the Week twice and has consistently been one of the team's top scorers in every meet. Erichsen ranks second for the Sharks with 16 first-place finishes this year and has excelled in the breaststroke and backstroke events with six wins in the backstroke and five in the breaststroke. Leedham gives Simmons another strong competitor in the butterfly and already has championship credentials after winning the 200-yard butterfly at the GNAC Championship with a school-record time. She has finished among the top three in butterfly events on 12 occasions, including five wins. Summers has been named the GNAC Rookie of the Week this season and placed fourth or better in four different events at the conference championship meet in December, including third in the 100-yard freestyle.
Senior Lindsay Nichols (Kennebunk, Maine), juniors Charlotte Rivard (Norwood, Mass.) and Kara Smith (Eastham, Mass.) and sophomore transfer Haley McCurdy (Framingham, Mass.) join first years Elizabeth Bartlett (Richmond, Mass.), Emily Buttafuoco (Londonderry, N.H.) and Olivia Walz (Natick, Mass.) to give the Sharks a very deep contingent of competitors, who are all expected to score points among the top-16, while vying for spots among the top eight. Nichols will compete at NEISDA for the fourth year in a row, having scored points in the 200-individual medley as well as the 200-yard butterfly during her career. The senior has registered 13 top-five finishes, including a fourth-place effort in the 200-yard butterfly at the GNAC Championship. Rivard has shown the ability to rise to the occasion with two of her seven top-five finishes this year coming at the GNAC Championship, placing fourth and fifth in the 200 and 100-yard individual medley events, respectively. Smith has good NEISDA experience, scoring 50 points in last year's meet. She will look to score in the butterfly this year after recording third and fourth place finishes in the 200 and 100-yard butterfly at the GNAC Championship as two of her 13 top-five efforts for the season. McCurdy swam for Division II Sacred Heart University a year ago and has made her biggest contributions in the freestyle and breaststroke events for Simmons, including a fourth-place effort in the 500-yard freestyle at the GNAC Championship. Bartlett earned GNAC Rookie of the Week honors earlier this year and adds to the team's impressive depth in the breaststroke with 11 top-three efforts and four victories in the stroke. Buttafuoco has been limited by injury this season, but posted five top-four finishes in six races, primarily in freestyle events. Walz earned All-Conference status after helping the Sharks win the 400-yard freestyle relay at the GNAC Championship and turned in 11 top-five individual finishes, including third in the 100-yard freestyle at the GNAC title meet.