An improving Husson University women’s swim team is eagerly looking forward to this weekend’s swim meet.

“I think we are further along than I thought we might be. We want to go to the Great Northeast Athletic Conference meet this weekend and send the message that Husson swimming is to be taken seriously,” said Husson coach Bruce Babin as the Eagles prepare to compete in the seven-team trials and finals GNAC meet scheduled for Simmons College in Boston Saturday and Sunday.

The Eagles have concentrated their entries in the distance events such as the 1,650-yard freestyle and the 400 individual medley.The emphasis

on the distance events follows a 400 IM record performance last week from sophomore Amanda Mason of Dexter.

“I expect we will add another couple of New England qualifiers this weekend,” Babin said as the team approaches the mid-point of the season. The young team has received New England qualifying swims from Mason, Levant’s Megan Call, Brewer’s Hali Fleishman and Olivia Grazak from Germany.

“The kids are really pumped. They are ready to swim,” Babin said.

Bears at URI Invitational

UMaine’s Black Bear swimmers and divers compete Friday and Saturday at the competitive University of Rhode Island Invitational against swimmers from Providence College, Fairfield University, Holy Cross, Bryant University and URI.

Maine’s men, 3-3 in dual meets, expect to compete with the fastest teams at the Invitational, coach Susan Lizotte said.

“They are in a good place. We are moving and acting as a team. This week we will be adding to their regular events swum in dual meets since the format of the invitational is somewhat similar to the America East Championships,” Lizotte added.

Lizotte explained the recent coaching focus has targeted “working the back half of a race.

“They know how to prepare themselves to race. We need to swim the back half of races smartly,” she said.

Knowing when to accelerate, when to change stroke rate, when to intensify the kick, and how to close to the wall are all race techniques where Lizotte anticipates continued development.

Lizotte complimented the team’s leadership.

“Jeremy (Bender) and Dan (McDonald) have been great leaders. They set the right tone,” she said.

Several freshmen including former Bangor diver Tim Smith have impacted the Black Bears lineup.

“Tim’s performance on the boards has been helpful to the team. He is exciting to watch,” Lizotte said.

In addition, first-year Bears, Robbie Bickford (Old Town), Brent Williams (Brewer) and Joey Quinn (Bangor) along with Brewer’s Zach Meehan, a junior, continue to impress Lizotte.

“I have nothing but positive feelings about where they are headed,” Maine’s coach said.

Yuri Chornobil, a sophomore from New York, also has continued to race impressively as well as train impressively. Swimming in an outside lane in Maine’s most recent dual meet, Yuri finished a 9 minute, 58 second 1,000 free. Lizotte could not recall the last sub-10 minute 1,000 freestyle swum by a Black Bear. Then, earlier this week, Yuri trained a demanding set of 12 by 100s at 1:10 and held 57s, suggesting to Lizotte that his distance freestyle racing will continue to develop.

At the URI meet, the Maine women project, like the men, to compete with the quickest teams.

“As a team, we are pointing toward the top. We would like our swims to be solid. We want to swim smart and to use the walls,” Lizotte explained.

Lizotte noted the consistency of Shannon Bender, who has raced successfully in freestyle, backstroke and the 400 IM. And, Orono’s Lauren Dwyer, as a frosh swimmer, has along with Emily Puilo strengthened the 50 free.

“They are both filling a hole for us with their 50 and 100 sprints,” she said.

Jones nominated for SI award

Cullen Jones, a gold-medal winner for the USA in the 2008 Olympic Games, was nominated for the 2010 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. Jones became only the second USA African American swimmer to win an Olympic gold.

Since the Games, Jones has campaigned policy and decision-makers, urging support for waterproofing for children. Jones nearly drowned in a New Jersey pool at the age of 5. Three days later he enrolled in swimming lessons. Now he travels to municipal pools teaching the young to swim.

The SI Sportsman of the Year was awarded to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.