Converse College’s swimming program, which launched just last year, is making great strides by producing the first athlete in the history of the college to qualify for a NCAA National Championship. Freshman swimmer Jenni Russell of Fort Mill, SC made the cut to qualify over the weekend in Athens, GA. The qualification not only gives her a shot at All-American status for swimming but guarantees her Honor All American Academics. If Russell is named All-American, she will also be Converse’s first All-American athlete.
“This is a momentous occasion that validates our hard work in building the momentum of Converse Valkyries athletics,” said Joy Couch, athletic director. “We have been looking forward to having a national championship athlete and are thrilled that the day has come – not only for Converse, but for a fantastic student-athlete like Jenni Russell who is also one of Converse’s first Weisiger Outstanding Scholar Athletes.”
Russell had her eyes set on making NCAA Championships since the beginning of this year. She had hoped to make her cut time at Blue Grass Mountain Conference on Feb. 21 but fell .11 of a second short. A last chance meet in Athens, Georgia at the University of Georgia on Feb. 27 gave her one final shot.
Russell took this past week to prepare for University of Georgia’s last chance meet with the mind set of not leaving with out her NCAA cut. She started the meet with a rough 100 breast stroke going for a fourth consideration time, but fell short.
Determined to get her cut in the 200 breast, Russell decided not to wait until Sunday to go for her cut. Time trialing the event shortly after the 100 breast, Jenni touched the wall with a 2:21.99 qualifying her for NCAA Championships. “I felt confident that I could make the cut and I think the nerves got the best of me in my first race. The pool is a really fast pool and I am glad that I got the opportunity to make my cut here,” Russell said.
NCAA Championships will be held in Canton, Ohio at the C.T. Branin Natatorium March 9 – 14.
“I am thrilled for Jenni as she has done nothing but represent Converse in the best light. It will be my honor to take her to her first NCAA Nationals,” said Converse swimming coach Susan Kunkler.
Last spring, Russell was awarded one of two inaugural Weisiger Outstanding Scholar Athlete awards, which are made possible through a $1 million gift commitment from Charlotte, N.C. residents Agnes and Ed Weisiger. Recipients of this scholarship have a proven record of academic success, aspire to major and pursue careers in the sciences, and exhibit strong leadership and community-building skills.
Before coming to Converse, Russell swam for the Lady Jackets of Fort Mill High School where she won the 2008 Coaches Award, 2007 Team Captain Award and 2006 Most Improved Swimmer Award. She served her team as captain during her senior year. Russell also swam for several different teams throughout the year. In 2008, she was named to the YMCA National Swim Team and recognized as an All-State Swimmer. She also qualified for the Senior Sectionals.