HOUSTON – Led by sophomore Alicia Caldwell as the Rice Swimmer of the Year, Owl head swim coach Seth Huston announced the program's individual award winners for 2015-2016 at the team's annual postseason banquet on Tuesday night (April 26).
Caldwell was the recipient of the Catherine Hannah Award, which has been presented to the program's top swimmer every year since 1979. In 2016 Caldwell posted the Owls’ top times in five different events and set the second individual school record of her Rice career, registering a 1:57.19 in the 200-yard backstroke. She won the silver medal in the 200-backstroke at the 2016 Conference USA Championships and was third in the league in both the 100-backstroke and 200-freestyle. The native of Sydney, Australia, was also a regular contributor in relay events, including the lead leg of this year’s 400-medley that registered a 3:40.35 that is among the best in school history.
Joining Caldwell on the team's 2016 awards list were junior Anniina Ala-Seppälä as the Most Improved swimmer, sophomore Kaitlyn Swinney as the winner of the Kathryn E. Scholl True Blue Spirit Award, junior Shelbi Ragsdale as the winner of the Natalie Kirchhoff Inspiring Competitor Award, freshmen Marie Claire Schillinger as the Rookie of the Year. The trio of Ala-Seppälä and seniors Savanna Golson and Cora McKenzie were honored for being named to the C-USA All-Academic Swim Team. Four Owls who were named the C-USA Swimmer of the Week a combined total of six times were also recognized.
Ala-Seppälä registered the best collegiate season of her career on the way to the Most Improved Award. Not only did the distance specialist score 54.5 points for Rice at the 2016 C-USA earlier this spring, she was selected to represent her native Finland at the upcoming European Swim Championships.
Selection for the Scholl True Blue Spirit Award goes beyond excellence in the pool. The award is presented to the Owl who has shown dedication, discipline and leadership, but most importantly consistent hard-work and commitment to the team concept. Swinney’s exemplary work led to her qualifying to participate in the United States Olympic Trials.
Named after the former Owl swimmer, the Natalie Kirchhoff Award went to breaststroke/IM specialist Shelbi Ragsdale for her inspiration to the team. Ragsdale battled back from being sidelined last season two reaching the championship finals of two C-USA events and winning the league’s consolation final of the 200-breaststroke.
Freshman standout Marie Claire Schillinger earned the Owls’ Rookie of the Year after breaking the individual school record in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:11.84) on the way to her winning two C-USA event titles. The Orinda, Calif., native will represent Rice at the Olympic Trials later this summer.
When it comes to achievements in the classroom the Owls are of course second to none. Three Owls - Ala-Seppälä (3.75 grade point average in political science), Savanna Golson (3.93 GPA in PreMed studies) and Cora McKenzie (3.56 GPA in PreMed/Evolutionary Biology) were named C-USA All-Academic Swim Team this season. A total of 21 Rice swimmers were named to the 2016 C-USA Commissioners Academic Honor Roll.
The awards didn't stop there, however. Five of the program's seniors, Taylor Armstrong, Shannon Foreman, Meaghan Wisenbaker, Golson and McKenzie passed out their version of accolades with the program's annual "Senior Paper Plate Awards." No Owl underclassman was spared from the senior-razz, but a good time was had as the soon-to-be Rice graduates made their good-nature, final parting jabs at their teammates.
Coach Huston, assistant coaches Amanda Caldwell and Michael Peron, and the swim staff also received recognition from the team members during the festivities.