ON CAMPUS: Indiana native Zilinskas thriving at collegiate level
Those familiar with Rachel Zilinskas’ swimming career won’t be surprised: She’s fitting right in at the top level of college swimming.
As a highly touted freshman at the University of Georgia, the Indiana native scored a second-place finish in her first college meet, has since added a couple first places and a Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week honor and reached NCAA B-cut times in four events.
“You swim for your high school team, and that’s always so fun,” she said. “You think nothing can compare to that, but everyone says there’s nothing quite like college swimming, and it’s really true. And swimming with the Georgia ‘G’ on my cap is something really special.”
As a team, the defending national champion Bulldogs are 8-0-1 in dual meets and sit fourth in the national rankings. They’ll gun for a fifth straight SEC championship in February.
It’s a group in which Zilinskas finds herself surrounded by a lot more talented peers on a daily basis.
“In high school I had people to race, but not that many,” said Zilinskas, who graduated from Germantown Academy, near Philadelphia, last spring. “If you’re on a club team, there are usually one or two kids that really stick out, but here, everyone on the team is an incredible swimmer. I’m racing against Olympians and gold medalists. … That competition in practice is something you just don’t get everywhere.”
Zilinskas made an impression right off the bat.
In the season opener against Kentucky on Sept. 25, she took second place in the 2,000 freestyle.
“I just remember I was so excited and nervous at the same time,” she said. “Your first college swim meet is something that’s just so exciting. Everything’s so new.
“It was only a little bit more than a month after I had gotten there, about six weeks. … It was just incredible.”
She followed that with a first-place finish in the 1,000 freestyle against Georgia Tech on Oct. 15. Recently, she was named the SEC Freshman of the Week for her performance against N.C. State on Jan. 4. She took first in the 500 freestyle and fourth in the 100 backstroke and contributed to fourth-place finishes on the 500 freestyle and 200 medley relays against the Wolfpack.
Going in as the No. 2 recruit in the nation from her class, it could be expected for Zilinskas to get a lot of attention, but she’s more of a face in the crowd on a national powerhouse squad.
“People look more at the success of the program as a whole,” Zilinskas said. “They definitely look at the success of individuals, but because everyone on the team is so fast, stuff like that isn’t as emphasized. It’s more the success of the team as a whole.”
That success is something Zilinskas looks to contribute to at the conference championship, which the Bulldogs will host in Athens, Ga., next month. She’ll also have a chance to build on her NCAA championship r?sum?. Zilinskas already has a chance to go with B-cuts in the 500 freestyle, 1,650 freestyle, 400 individual medley and 200 backstroke.
Her specialty has always been distance freestyle, but more recently she’s emerged as a legitimate competitor in the backstroke.
“It kind of started this summer at U.S. nationals. I didn’t have good distance freestyle events, but I dropped 4 seconds in the 200 and long course backstroke,” Zilinskas said, “so that’s when I realized I was always good at it, but I never really thought I was good at a national level at it, and that gave me the confidence, and I built off that and we started incorporating it more in the season.
“My distance freestyle definitely is still my better shot … but (the backstroke) is something new, and we’ll see where it goes.”
The well-rounded skill set is particularly valuable at the college level.
“College swimming, you truly have to do what the team needs you to do,” she said. “Even if it’s an event you might not be used to swimming, or it isn’t your favorite or your best, if someone else is going to take care of that event, you have to take care of another event and be in a spot you’re not necessarily comfortable in, and that’s just the way that it’s going to be.”
ABBEY O’NEAL (Shippensburg, swimming): A freshman from Indiana, O’Neal has been part of three first-place relay finishes, as well as a second- and a third-place finish for the Red Raiders.
In her first collegiate meet, a triangular meet with West Chester and Southern Connecticut State in October, O’Neal helped teams in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays to first-place finishes. She helped her 400 freestyle relay team to another first-place finish on Nov. 1 against Fairmont State and California.
Swimming freestyle, O’Neal has started to appear in more individual events. She claimed sixth-place finishes in the 100 and 200 freestyles in the Raiders’ most recent meet, Jan. 10 and 11 at Edinboro.
Shippensburg welcomes Davis & Elkins on Jan. 25. The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Championships begin Feb. 20.
KRISTIN BRICE (Emerson, basketball): A 6-foot junior forward from Indiana, Brice has been a force for the Division III Lions. Brice leads Emerson by far in scoring (14.0) and rebounding (9.7) and has started all 13 of the Lions’ games.
She opened the season with a 30-point, 16-rebound performance against Wentworth. Both totals were season highs. Brice has added scoring outputs of 29, 20 and, most recently against Clark on Wednesday, 18 points. She is shooting a team-high 42.9 percent.
Emerson (2-7) sits in 10th place in the 11-team New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference. The Lions play at Smith College on Saturday.
MAGGIE McLOUGHLIN (Shepherd, basketball): A freshman guard from Homer-Center, McLoughlin has been playing well in the new year for the Division II Rams.
She scored a season-high 15 points in an 82-81 loss at Notre Dame College on Jan. 4. She has since had games of nine, 11 and eight points.
On the season, McLoughlin averages 4.9 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. She has started seven of Shepherd’s 13 games and averages 18.2 minutes per game.
The Rams (2-11) are in 11th place in the 12-team Mountain East Conference. Shepherd visits Wheeling Jesuit on Saturday.
GABRIELLE PIZUR (Penn State Altoona, basketball): A freshman guard from Northern Cambria, Pizur has appeared in eight of 13 games for the Division III Lions.
She has made 2 of 9 shots and averages 4.3 minutes per game.
Penn State Altoona (2-11) sits in last place in the eight-team Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference. The Lions play host to D’Youville on Saturday.
KODY YOUNG (Mercyhurst, wrestling): A 133-pound redshirt sophomore, Young is from Brookville, but he is a graduate of Punxsutawney High School. He has a 42-17 career record with the Division II Lakers, including a 9-4 mark this season.
Young won his first six bouts of the season. He’s 2-1 in the calendar year.
He’s won two bouts each by fall, major decision and decision.
Young qualified for the NCAA tournament as a freshman in 2012. His 33 wins that season were tied for fourth-most in school history.
The Lakers (8-1) are ranked No. 11 in the nation. They welcome Lake Erie College on Saturday.