March Busy Month For South Florida Aquatic Club Swimmers

March Busy Month For South Florida Aquatic Club Swimmers


March 7, 2012

Call it March Madness swimming-style.

The month of March is one of the busiest months for South Florida Aquatic Club swimmers, coaches, parents and volunteers.

Florida Gold Coast Junior Olympics, NCAA Women’s Division I  Championships, training camps in Mexico and Idaho, Speedo Champions Series, All-Star Dual Meet, Canadian Olympic trials, USA Swimming Indianapolis Grand Prix, Purdue Invitational Swim Meet and Comets Open Water Pool Challenge will involve one or more SOFLO swimmer this month.

Led by top-seeds Melissa Marinheiro, Kelley Heron, Rafael Rodriguez, Annita Huang, more than 100 SOFLO swimmers will compete Friday through Sunday in the Florida Gold Coast Short Course Junior Olympics at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex.

SOFLO is defending champion after winning last year’s team title with 943 points. SOFLO led the meet from opening day.

While the meet is going on, eleven 15-and-older SOFLO swimmers leave Friday for a March 9-18 Training Camp in San Luis Potosi, Mexico with SOFLO Coach Chris Anderson. Joining Anderson is two-time Olympian Alia Atkinson, Amber Hunter, Maria Lopez, Leonie Davies, Marcella Marinheiro, Roger Capote, William Perry III, Edward Kon, sisters Evelin and Daniela Jimenez and Jacob Walters.

Four other swimmers and Age Group Coach of the Year Rose Lockie will leave for Mexico after the JO meet on Monday. They are Melissa Marinheiro, Jordan Colon, and Alex and Bianca Monti.

Fourteen swimmers will participate with Coach Bruno Darzi at a March 10-17 Training Camp in Sun Valley, Idaho. Departing on Saturday are Selina Voelkel, Kristina Brennan, Emma Lincoln, Brandon Goldman, Luke Torres, Anne Kuczynski, Keegan Boisson-Yates, Mauricio Hidalgo and two-time Olympian Sharntelle McLean.

Five other swimmers will arrive in Sun Valley on Sunday. They are Christelle Martin, Jillian Alexander, Audrey Mason, Catharine Cooper and Steph Campo.

SOFLO’s Caroline Kuczynski, a junior at Arizona State will make her second appearance at the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships March 15-17 in Auburn, Alabama. Kuczynski will be joined by SOFLO teammate Tiffany Oliver, a sophomore at Florida State.

Ten days later, Kuczynski will be in Montreal for the March 27-April 1 Canadian Olympic Trials.

Nine SOFLO swimmers are entered in the March 15-18 Speedo Champions Series Sectionals in Orlando. They are Xavier Brown, Luana Cabral, Matthew Gonzalez, Rachel Ling, Ivan Parada, Julien Pinon, Jessica Rodriguez, Marc Rojas and Gustavo Valery.

SOFLO is expected to land swimmers on the Florida Gold Coast All-Star team for the annual All-Star Dual Meet against Florida Swimming March 23-25 at Indian River College.

SOFLO Olympians Alia Atkinson, Dara Torres and Vlad Polyakov will compete in the March 29-31 USA Swimming Indianapolis Grand Prix. Atkinson and Polyakov will be looking for Olympic qualifying cut times in the FINA-approved meet. Torres, who has her U.S. Olympic trials cut in the 50-meter freestyle, will be looking for some good racing.

Because of the popularity of the meet and entry cap being filled sooner than expected and several teams shut out, the March 29-31 Purdue Invitational was created for the surplus of swimmers.

SOFLO has entered twelve swimmers in the meet at Purdue which features a fast pool. The swimmers are Jessie Alcaide, Alia Atkinson, Keegan Boisson-Yates, Brandon Goldman, Emily Greenwood, Emma Lincoln, Maria Lopez, Mariangela Macchiavello, Marcella and Melissa Marinheiro, Sharntelle McLean and Luke Torres.

And last but not least, on March 31 at 9 a.m., the SOFLO/Comets Swim Team and Booster Club will host the Florida Gold Coast Open Water Challenge at the Academic Village Pool in Pembroke Pines.

The 50-meter heated outdoor pool will be configured with buoys to resemble a safe controlled open water circuit. Teams and individuals may enter. The distances are 1K, 3K and 5K and will serve as a perfect tuneup for triathlons and April 21 Nike Swim Miami.

Sharon Robb can be reached at

SOFLO’s Melissa Cooper Earns All-ACC Honors After Long Journey Back To Swimming

SOFLO’s Melissa Cooper Earns All-ACC Honors After Long Journey Back To Swimming


March 2, 2012

The trials and tribulations swimmers go through are numerous.

Many fall by the wayside, discouraged by injury or illness. Others leave the sport frustrated by lack of progress or motivation.

Then there’s Melissa Cooper.

The South Florida Aquatic Club swimmer had every reason to hang her suit and goggles up and walk away several times during her swimming career.

There was her junior year at Plantation American Heritage when she swam with a broken left foot and won the state 1A 100-yard breaststroke title only to have it taken away seconds later with a false start disqualification after her broken foot twitched on the block.

Cooper underwent foot surgery and was given no guarantees she would return to swimming let alone champion form.

Six weeks later, she was back in the pool. Her final year of high school swimming she came back to re-claim that breaststroke state title and earned All-County and All-American honors.

There was more bad news as she was preparing for the next chapter of her swimming career in college. She found out in a text message from who she thought was going to be her college roommate at Clemson that the school was eliminating its men’s and women’s swim programs at the end of the 2011-2012 academic year.

She found another college, Texas A&M, only to suffer a major setback her freshman year when she tore the bicep tendon and labrum in her left shoulder, the result of years of wear and tear. She underwent surgery in Texas on Feb. 9, 2011 which she called “a really scary day,” and again was told by doctors she may not be able to compete again. She left Texas A&M in April 2011.

“That was the second time I was told I would never swim again or compete at the same level,” Cooper said.

After months of rehabilitation she successfully returned to competitive swimming at the club level. She was then able to walk-on at Florida State and swim for the nationally-ranked Seminoles as a sophomore.

Cooper came full circle during the recent Atlantic Coast Conference Swimming and Diving Championships in Christiansburg, Va. She posted back-to-back personal best times to finish second in the 100-yard breaststroke in 1:00.92 in her conference meet debut. She went 1:01 in prelims. Her previous best was 1:03.60.

“I would have been happy with any best time, but a 1:00 is just ridiculous, I was absolutely floored,” Cooper said. “It’s been a long time coming. I can’t even comprehend it still. I went for so long not having the times I knew I could do.”

For her performance, she earned All-ACC honors. It was the first time in four years, since her sophomore year in high school, that she swam a best time and was her old self at a major meet.

“I was in absolute shock when I saw that time,” Cooper said. “I started crying in the pool. After four years of not being there, it was just absolutely mind-blowing.”

After her emotionally-charged swim, she called her dad in Davie, her boyfriend and SOFLO head coach Chris Anderson, who helped her through the tedious months of rehabilitation in the pool.

“I had a lot of support from friends, coaches and family back home,” Cooper said. “It was such a good community of support behind me. I couldn’t have done it alone. It was really a long process. I took it one day at a time.”

Cooper had to wear a sling for four weeks followed by two months of physical therapy. “I was not allowed to get near a pool,” Cooper said.

The first month she was allowed in the pool she could only kick with her arm by her side.

“The first time I got in, Chris helped me a lot,” Cooper said. “I had my own lane to kick back and forth. I had to go really slow. After that I streamlined maybe 500 at a time. Then slowly we would add yardage.

“By the time the school year came around it got easier. I felt my range of motion coming back and felt less pain. At that point after three to four months of it being quite hard, it wasn’t too hard and I got significantly better. I did what I needed to do.”

Cooper now plans on training long course meters and going for her U.S. Olympic trials cut.

“I am pretty much back to 100 percent,” Cooper said. “I should be able to get better and better. It just feels great to be back.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at

AQUATIC NOTEBOOK, Issue 134: SOFLO’s Caroline Kuczynski, Tiffany Oliver Headed To The Big Dance

AQUATIC NOTEBOOK, Issue 134: SOFLO’s Caroline Kuczynski, Tiffany Oliver Headed To The Big Dance


March 1, 2012

Caroline Kuczynski and Tiffany Oliver, two of South Florida Aquatic Club’s top collegiate swimmers, are going to the Big Dance.

Caroline Kuczynski, a junior at Arizona State, will make her second consecutive appearance at the March 15-17 NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at the James E. Martin Aquatics Center in Auburn, Ala.

Auburn University is hosting the three-day meet. The pair will be among 281 of the nation’s top swimmers from 64 Division I colleges.

Georgia qualified the most swimmers with 16 whole defending national champion California has 14 swimmers.

Kuczynski is one of seven ASU Sun Devils qualified for college swimming’s biggest event of the season. Kuczynski, a Canadian Olympic hopeful, qualified in the 100-yard butterfly (52.44) and two relays, the 200-yard medley relay (1:37.63) and 400-yard medley relay (3:33.47).

Kuczynski will also swim the 200-yard individual medley (1:59.31) and 200-yard butterfly (1:57.46).

Kuczynski will be joined by ASU teammates Rebecca Ejdervik, Mattie Kukors, Kelli Kyle, Shannon Landgrebbe, Cassandra Morrice and Tristin Baxter.

Last year the versatile Kuczynski qualified in the 200-yard butterfly and 100-yard butterfly.

It will be Oliver’s first-ever appearance at NCAAs.

Oliver broke her own school record in the 100 freestyle at the Bulldog Invitation last weekend posting a 48.93 in the 100-yard freestyle. In addition, Oliver will also swim the 50 freestyle.

Oliver will be joined by teammate Elizabeth Pepper, a freshman, who qualified in the 200-yard butterfly in 1:56.92.

“We are excited to have Tiffany and Pepper qualify,” FSU coach Neil Harper said. “The times that made it this year were really fast and we had a few girls that were just shy of qualifying.”

University of Miami is sending two swimmers to the meet, senior Kelsi Hall in the 50-yard freestyle (22.03) and Sofia Johansson, a junior, in the 100-yard breaststroke in 59.81.

Florida International’s Johanna Gustafsdottir, a freshman from Iceland, also qualified for her first NCAAs in the 200-yard backstroke (1:54.40).

Emma Svensson, a freshman at Florida Gulf Coast coached by former Florida Atlantic coach Neal Studd, qualified in the 50-yard freestyle in 22.46.

Vaziri In New York Times

Former Coral Springs Swim Club swimmer and Indiana University alum Leila Vaziri was mentioned in a recent New York Times article about an eight-block corridor through the nerve center of New York City known for its history, architecture and culture. According to the story, located among the eight blocks is “Swim Bike Run, where the former world short course backstroke champion gives swimming lessons for $140 an hour in the lap pool behind the cash register.”

Cuban Swimmer Sets More Records

Cuban-born swimmer Rafael Castillo of Miami who is a left leg and left arm amputee, won four gold medals and set five national records at the recent Jimi Flowers Classic in Colorado Springs.

The 25-year-old won the 50- and 100-meter butterfly, 50-meter backstroke and 200-meter individual medley in addition to the 50- and 100-meter freestyles in record times.

Castillo has been living in Miami for three months. He defected while competing in the Para-Pan American Games in Mexico last November, He has competed in several local meets.

Sharon Robb can be reached at

Patience, Hard Work Pays Off For SOFLO’s Astrid Rigau

Patience, Hard Work Pays Off For SOFLO’s Astrid Rigau


March 1, 2012

Astrid Rigau knew it was only a matter of time.

The South Florida Aquatic Club swimmer had a breakthrough meet this past weekend at the Florida Gold Coast Area 3 Developmental Championships at Academic Village Pool in Pembroke Pines.

Rigau, 15, won the 50-yard freestyle and 50-yard backstroke, was second in the 100-yard freestyle, third in the 100-yard backstroke and fourth in the 200-yard backstroke. She swam seven personal best times in prelims and finals.

“I was really happy with my 50 free,” Rigau said. “That was an amazing race. Coach Josh told me all these positive things.”

Rigau has been working with coaches Chris Anderson and Josh Laban. She said the hard work is beginning to pay off in her races.

“I just listen to my coaches,” Rigau said. “I am constantly going to morning practice now. I am trying harder and I am paying attention. I always try to be the first one on kick sets.

“This has to be one of my best meets. I am really happy. I lowered my times. I came in with a 1:03 and leaving with a 1:01 in my 100 freestyle. I was really happy with my 50 freestyle and 50 backstroke. I am a big sprinter, I love to race. In my 200 backstroke I got nervous.”

Rigau won the 15-18 50-yard freestyle in 28.04. She was top morning qualifier in 28.17, bettering her previous best of 28.69.

She also won the 50-yard backstroke in 33.11, bettering her prelim time of 34.35 (fourth fastest). Her previous best was 33.94.

She was second in the 100-yard freestyle in 1:01.11 bettering her prelim time of 1:02.17. Her previous best was 1:03.27.

Rigau, a sophomore at Pembroke Pines Charter, has been swimming since she was in sixth grade. She started swimming high school her freshman year with Coach Rose Lockie. She qualified for districts, made region finals and just missed making states which is her goal for this fall.

Rigau has always been athletic, playing football with the boys’ team. She took dance lessons in ballet and tap. Swimming is now her priority, she said.

“I am glad I got involved with swimming,” Rigau said. “When I was little I did dance but I didn’t really like it so I quit. My mom transferred me to swim lessons. We’re from Puerto Rico and I love the water. I was always the one under water in swim lessons and I never wanted to get out of the water.”

Rigau tried out for her middle school team and was one of 20 out of 100 candidates who made it. “I just fell in love with it,” she said.

She tried out for the Comets and moved through the Meteorites, Asteroids and Bronze groups but then suffered a setback. She broke her right ankle while doing trampoline.

“I was in seventh grade when it happened,” Rigau said. “I had to have surgery. It set me back three months. I was out of the water and it was killing me.

“Then I came back and I felt like I was stuck. I had all these 13 year olds getting my times and beating me. I felt something was wrong with me. I was barely making my times.

“I told myself this year was going to be better. I was getting better with my school work and I turned my mind to swimming. I was thinking about my races, visualizing them and working on everything. Now I am happy. I feel like I am part of my old group with all my friends.”

Rigau turns 16 on April 8th. She already got her first senior cut at Senior Championships. She is focusing on the summer championship season, she said.

“School comes first, that gets you where you want to be but right after academics comes swimming,” Rigau said. “I love this sport and I think I can have a future with something I love. My parents aren’t forcing me to be here, I love to be here. Swimming is everything to me.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at