“It feels really, really awesome.”
Those were the words of junior transfer Cierra Runge after swimming her first official meet as a Sun Devil.
Despite the balmy winds, the Devils started off hot this Saturday morning in the homecoming meet against the Cougars from Washington State.
The Sun Devils haven’t seen action since December’s Indiana University Invitational– a stark contrast from the Cougars who swam the University of Arizona in Tucson the night before. But the Devils weren’t hibernating over the holiday–they were preparing.
In the 200 medley relay, junior Chloe Isleta made it clear that she was in it to win it, splitting 25.91 seconds on the leadoff backstroke leg of the race. Freshman Lizzy Spears of ASU’s B-relay touched next in 27.2 seconds. As the A-relay built their lead, the ASU B-squad swapped leads with the Cougars’ A-relay until senior Krista Kolkebeck’s freestyle leg propelled the Devils to finish first and second in the first event of the day.
The 1000 freestyle marked the first of a dominant seven 1-2-3 sweeps for ASU. Sophomore Caitlyn Wilson led the race for the first 300 yards, edging teammate sophomore Emma Nordin by a .02-second advantage. But Nordin’s tank was still on full. Nordin passed Wilson, and had some time to watch the other racers after she finished; just over eight seconds to be exact. After 10:10.80, Nordin touched the wall, followed by Wilson, then junior Bentley Hulshof.
The 200 freestyle marked Cierra Runge’s first opportunity to make her mark as a Devil, and the Olympian did exactly that. Her 6’4” frame and leg strength allowed her to advance further ahead of the pack at each flip turn, until she finished in 1:49.44. Junior Silja Kansakoski praised Runge after the meet: “I’ve never swum with someone so fast, it brings so much more confidence to our team to have you [looks to Cierra] here.”
Junior Chloe Isleta continued her reign over backstroke events, winning both the 100 and 200 backstroke. Typically, backstrokers are known for height–although Isleta scoffs at this stereotype, as her 5’1” stature obviously has yet to deter her this season. Behind her in both events were sophomore Camryn Curry and freshman Lizzy Spears, who finished 2ndand 3rdeach time.
The Sun Devils also swept the 200 butterfly, 500 freestyle, 100 butterfly and the 200 IM.
One of the marquee events for the morning would be the 100 breaststroke: Cougar sophomore Mackenzie Duarte was slated against Kansakoski and sophomore Nora Deleske. At the halfway point, Duarte split 30.15 seconds. Luckily for ASU, it’s not the 50 breaststroke. Silja Kansakoski showed blazing closing speed to pull ahead of Duarte, to win the race in 1:02.43, a full second ahead of the Cougar.
When asked how she pulled out her closing speed, she laughed out loud. “I did? I seem to do that a lot,” she giggled. “I have to rely on what I’ve been training, I know that I won’t die and that I just need to take it out and keep going, and never give up.”
It continuously shows how strong the Sun Devil women are in the distance category, and a sure sign was when they were left to racing themselves in the 500 freestyle. Cierra Runge joined the ranks of Emma Nordin, Caitlyn Wilson, and junior Kendall Dawson in the 500 on Saturday. Runge started off quickly, although Nordin passed her after the first 100 yards. Nordin won the event in 4:50.52, with Runge just behind her in 4:50.92. Wilson finished in 5:01.91 to complete another Devils sweep.
“Feeling able to contribute was awesome. I’ve been there in spirit, but now it’s fun to be there physically,” Runge said.
The meet versus Washington State was her first taste of dual meet competition in a year and a half. But after looking for a home for so long, the 22-year-old out of Cochranville,
Pennsylvania seems to have found it in Tempe: “I said to the girls, this is probably the best experience I’ve had since I’ve been in college, and to be able to represent the Devils with these girls is something that I’ve really looked forward to.”
Looking forward, the men and women will have their next test against Cal, on Friday, January 25th.