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When sophomore swimming star Katie Meili dove into the pool at the women's swimming and diving Ivy League Championships over the weekend, she wasn't thinking about individual glory, gold medals, or Ivy records. "We had a bigger goal as a team than last year," said Meili. "We got a new assistant coach [Michael Sabala] who really inspired us and we wanted to get third place." Columbia would place third at the meet, narrowly edging out rival Penn by six points, 894 to 888, in a frantic finish. "Third place is a big deal, since Harvard and Princeton are far ahead," said Meili of the two teams ahead of Columbia in the final standings, "and I just wanted to do anything I could to help." "Katie works hard consistently and has excellent stroke mechanics and command of the water," said head coach Diana Caskey. "She is unassuming and is always 'at the ready' for whatever is needed for the team effort.  She inspires her team, while at the same time being inspired by them. Her level-headed approach to the sport and competition will continue to serve her well."   Meili did more than just that. Meili won her first Ivy Championship on the first day of the meet, winning the 200 Individual Medley in 1:59.20 in the finals, improving on her own performance in the preliminaries. Earlier that day, Meili swam the 200 IM in 1:59.75, which was the first time she swam it in under two minutes in her career, the fastest time in the Ivy League this season, and an NCAA 'B' cut time. In the final, Meili out-touched opponents from Princeton and Harvard by one second, and was named to the all-Ivy first team for her outstanding effort. The individual medley, where the swimmer swims each of the four strokes (butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke, and freestyle) was Meili's event for a simple reason. "I'm pretty good at every stroke," the Texas native said. "So when you put it all together, it's pretty good." Despite this, Meili wasn't seeded high going into the preliminaries of the 200-yard IM. "I hadn't swam the 200 IM that much," Meili said. "But I knew that I could do well and put myself in a position to be first." Meili swam a personal record in the morning preliminaries, with the final race set for that evening. With her top finish in the preliminaries, Meili was seeded first going into the finals, a new experience for the sophomore. "I was extremely nervous, I had never been in that position before," Meili said. "I was a big target. Normally I get to chase after everyone else." Meili talked to her coaches, head coach Diana Caskey and assistant coach Michael Sabala, both of whom helped relax her going into the finals. "They told me to relax and have fun," Meili said of her coaches. "They told me that I had earned that spot." The medley started with the butterfly (or fly), followed with the backstroke and then the breaststroke, and finished with the freestyle. Meili's strongest stroke is the breaststroke, as she finished second in the Ivy championships last spring in the 100 breaststroke with a NCAA 'B' time and school record of 1:02.31. Meili was one of two non-Princeton or Harvard swimmers in the eight person final. She touched the wall first after the butterfly with a time of 25.78 seconds, 0.16 seconds ahead of the next swimmer. "The first 50 was really good," Meili said. "I knew I can sprint pretty decently. Once I got ahead, I had confidence in it." Meili was in second place after the backstroke, with a split of 30.57 and an overall time of 56.35, 0.01 seconds off the lead. "I knew if I could keep it close after the backstroke I would be in good shape," Meili said. Meili's best stroke, the breaststroke, put her in the lead for the final time, as she would not relinquish it again. Meili was in first place by .15 seconds with a time of 1:31.06 after swimming the 50 breaststroke in 34.71 seconds. Meili turned for the last 50 yards with an Ivy title within sight, and only 50 yards of freestyle between her and her goal. "The freestyle portion is just a race," Meili said of the last leg of the medley. Meili didn't swim the fastest time of anyone in the pool, but her split of 28.14 was fast enough to allow her to touch more than a full second ahead of the second place finisher from Princeton. The next three finishers touched within three hundredths of a second of each other in a photo-finish to the medley. "It didn't hit me till after the race," Meili said of winning the 2011 title in the 200 IM. "I saw my teammates cheering, and my parents in the stands and I started to cry. I turned away, I didn't want anyone to see." For Meili, the championship was the culmination of hours and hours of hard work over the years. "It was about seeing the hard work pay off," Meili said. Assistant coach Michael Sabala believes that training for the individual medley will help Meili in the long run. "Katie has the technical proficiency and drive to contend for an Ivy League championship in any event; she's that good, and that focused, and so much credit goes to her club coaches and parents," Sabala said. "We chose to focus on the IMs because in preparing for them, you make everything better." Meili would also swim the 400 IM, but despite being seeded first in the preliminaries, she didn't have a great swim in the prelims and didn't make the 'A' finals for the event. She did however, finish first in the 'B' finals, earning 20 points toward the team score. Meili just missed qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in the 200 IM this year with her time, but the sophomore hasn't slowed down one bit since the Ivy Championships over the weekend. Meili is headed to Indianapolis with four other swimmers from the team for the Indianapolis Grand Prix on Wednesday to see if any of them can qualify for the Olympic trials for the 2012 Games in London. Meili, just a sophomore, believes that the brightest days for Columbia women's swimming are still ahead. "We're going in as a team looking to be better," Meili said of the goals for next year. "It's all about getting better and progressing. The goals are really high. Harvard and Princeton have been so good for so long. Eventually, we'd like to creep into first or second place [in the Ivies]." Despite her personal record, the all-time Ivy record for the 200 IM is still not hers. The record belongs to Columbia graduate Cristina Teuscher, who set it in 1999 (1:57.63), and won a gold medal and a bronze medal at two different Olympics in 1996 and 2000. "Eventually, Christina's records will fall," said a laughing Meili, when asked about the record. With such a great start to her career, it should shock no one to see Meili continue her assault on the record books at Columbia.

Athlete of the Week Women's Swimming