by Missouri State Athletics
The Missouri State women’s swimming and diving team hoisted the Missouri Valley Conference championship trophy for the 15th time in program history, claiming the resounding victory Saturday evening in front of a jam-packed Mizzou Aquatic Center.
The win signaled Missouri State’s 11th MVC championship in the past 12 years.
After leading all four days of the event, the Bears finished with 759 points. Southern Illinois earned runner-up at 619.50, and Indiana State rounded out the top three with 511.50. UNI (497.50), Illinois State (438), Little Rock (273.50), Evansville (269), and Valparaiso (115) were the remaining scorers.
“We never took this experience for granted,” said head coach Dave Collins. “These girls have put in a lot of time and effort to put themselves in this position to hold that trophy, and I want them to be proud of, not only this weekend, but the entire season.”
Throughout the competition, Missouri State collected six individual and three relay titles. Both Bears’ comeback victories in the 800 and 200 freestyles came in stunning fashion, beating the competition by one-tenth and three-hundredths of a second, respectively.
In her final day in the pool, Libby Howell earned her third gold-medal of the meet, defending her title in the 1650 freestyle. Her time of 16:46.29 bested the runner-up by over 10 seconds and signaled her sweep of individual events at the championship.
Over the four-day period, Howell claimed gold in the 200, 500, and 1650 freestyle.
Josie Pearson concluded her career at Missouri State on a high note, garnering her second individual championship title in the 200 butterfly. Yesterday, Pearson conducted an epic comeback to clinch first-place in the 400 IM, upsetting the defending champion.
“It was awesome to end my Missouri State career with another individual title,” said Pearson. “I was proud to go out on top surrounded by my teammates.”
Fellow senior Loretta Stelnicki impressed in the 100 freestyle, pulling in the silver medal with a time of 50.58. Anna Miller finished a half-second behind Stelnicki to earn fourth for the Bears.
In the championship finale, Alex Thorson, Miller, Howell, and Stelnicki claimed Missouri State’s last title in the 400 freestyle relay. The Bears swept all the freestyle relays.
The 200 backstroke saw a trio of Bears place in the top eight, Madison Brown (2:01.95) and Sarah Allegri (2:02.13) creating the 1-2 punch for Missouri State in the fourth and fifth spot, respectively. Sydney Radloff (2:03.03) rounded out the group in seventh.
Dayana Popa was the front-runner for the Bears on the 3-meter boards, collecting 264.30 points for fourth. Ashley Yarbrough and Adriana Avila also placed in sixth and seventh, respectively.
Kaylee Larson and Brianna McCullough ended their time at Missouri State with key performances. Larson pulled in another top-15 ranking in the 200 breaststroke, while McCullough turned in strong efforts in the Bears 800 and 200 freestyle relay victories.
Specialty award winners included Freshman Swimmer of the Year Alex Thorson and Diving Coach of the Year Jim Huelskamp. This is the fourth coaching accolade for Huelskamp during his tenure.
Thorson was a key contributor in the Bears’ 400 and 800 freestyle gold-medal efforts.
“All of us worked hard this season,” said Thorson. “I honored to win this award and I am so proud of the team.”
Seven Bears nabbed spots on the all-MVC first team – Howell, Leticia Rodrigues, Josie Pearson, Anna Miller, Alex Thorson, Stelnicki, and McCullough.
Honorable mentions included Radloff, Yarbrough, Popa, Avila, Sarah Allegri, Haley Allen, Maddie Prettyman, Allee Armitage, and Brown.
“I am proud of the athletes and our staff,” said Collins. “There is a lot of work that goes into this, and I am proud of how the athletes have represented, not only the program, the university.”