Junior butterflyer Claire Donahue has propelled the Lady Toppers throughout the season with her dominance in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly events while also contributing her skills to the 200- and 400-yard medley relays.
Her outstanding performance in the water not only led the women’s swimming and diving team to a third straight Sun Belt title but has also landed her a spot in the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships March 18-20 at Purdue University in the 100-yard butterfly.
Donahue finished 20th in the 100 butterfly at last year’s NCAA meet and 18th in the 200 butterfly. Her Sun Belt Conference record time of 51.95 in the 100 butterfly during last weekend’s conference championships is the fastest time in the nation this season thus far, according to collegeswimming.com.
The Pac-10 Conference and the Big 12, considered the two most dominant conferences in women’s collegiate swimming, are set to swim their conference championship meets this week. However, Donahue’s time earned her an “A” cut, ensuring her a spot in the NCAA championships.
“I think I’ve improved enough this year to finish top eight,” Donahue said. “That’s been my goal all season.”
A top-eight finish would notch Donahue All-American honors, wmaking her the first All-American Head Coach Bruce Marchionda has coached at Western. He coached two All-Americans during his tenure at Clemson. When asked if Donahue could become Western’s first national championship swimmer Marchionda was taken aback.
“Let’s not even talk about that,” he said. “If everything goes well, if she swims how she’s capable of swimming, she’ll definitely finish top eight. That’s been the goal all season.”
Donahue also picked up a “B” cut in the 200 butterfly.
“It’s kind of a weird formula” Marchionda said of the cut process. “They analyze all the times but basically what it comes down to is you need to be top 24 in the country. Then they’ll fill in event by event until all events are even.”
Also earning a “B” cut for the Lady Toppers last weekend was freshman backstroker Hilary Mishler. Mishler’s time of 1:56.92 in the 200-yard backstroke at last Saturday’s finals was a Sun Belt Conference meet record. Marchionda said that the Lady Toppers also have an outside shot of advancing either their 200- or 400-yard medley relay to the NCAA championships.
Senior freestyler Sean Penahle was the only Topper to pick up a “B” cut last week. Penhale’s time of 15:11 in the 1650-yard freestyle has him ranked near the top 10 in the country Marchionda said.
“Hilary and Sean will both be really close,” Marchionda said.
The swimming and diving season is over for the majority of the Toppers and Lady Toppers, but this weekend will present an opportunity for a few swimmers to improve their times for possible NCAA cuts at the Championship Qualification meet in Knoxville, Tenn.
Marchionda said he will be taking junior Brittany Doss, Penhale, and a handful of women swimmers to the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatics Center to improve their times. He said Penhale has a good shot at picking up a “B” cut in the 200-yard freestyle while hoping Doss can drop time in her 100-yard breaststroke to pick up her cut.
“We’re going to take a couple people who we think can go a little faster,” Marchionda said. “We call it a last chance meet because it’s the last chance to try and put up some better times.”