After nearly quitting the sport, swimmer Casey Hurrell-Zitelman enjoyed a grand finale in her year at Incarnate Word.
After transferring from Texas A&M, the five-time All-American became UIW’s first female national champion when she won four events in the 2011 NCAA Division II meet.
The senior also set a national record in the 400 IM and was named the NCAA Division II Female Swimmer of the Year, the sports moment judged the greatest in UIW history.
Her final gold medal came in her best event, the 1,650-yard freestyle. She also won the 1,000 freestyle, the 500 freestyle — in 3.69 seconds faster than the nearest competitor — and the 400 individual medley.
And she swam the leadoff leg on UIW’s 800 freestyle relay team which finished second in a school-record 4:47.21.
Her toughest challenge came in the IM as the senior found herself behind. The San Antonio Express-News reported that she “caught fire with the breastroke and freestyle and pulled ahead.”
“Casey is awesome,” said UIW coach Phillip Davis said. “We keep challenging her and she keeps stepping up. There is nothing swimmers like better than breaking their personal bests. When you are on like she is it is like a snowball.”
According to newspaper accounts, she trailed briefly in the 1,650 freestyle but took the lead after the 200-yard mark and finished her collegiate career in style.
“I am so excited,” Hurrell-Zitelman told the Express-News. “I wanted to win all four, but I wasn’t expecting it. I thought the 500 and 400 IM were going to be the toughest, because of the competition. And I am not much a sprinter.
“In the back of my head, I kept telling myself if you want to win you’re going to have to do it. I did what I had to do to get that gold.”
It was a happy ending for Hurrell-Zitelman, who transferred to UIW after a falling out with her coaches at Texas A&M . She handled the pressure of being the No. 1-ranked female swimmer in Division II all season.
“She’s been the hunted for 144 days, and she came out victorious in everything she wanted to do,” Davis told the Express-News.
“When you find an athlete who is happy, competitive, works hard and has the natural talent she does, they’re going to succeed. She has the work ethic. She understands the mental part. She loves the sport. She has a smile worth a million bucks.”
On the cover: Incarnate Word’s Casey Hurrell-Zitelman won four gold medals at the 2011 NCAA Division II Swimming & Diving Championships. (Courtesy UIW Athletics)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: High Point and Hofstra
• Tuesday: Holy Cross and Houston
• Wednesday: Houston Baptist and Illinois Chicago (UIC)
• Thursday: Incarnate Word (UIW) and Jacksonville State
• Friday: James Madison