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Keene State's Mondello to Swim at NCAA Championships

Rachel Mondello
Rachel Mondello

KEENE, N.H. 3/3/08 - Keene State’s Rachel Mondello had a premonition something good was about to happen. Originally planning to spend Spring Week with a friend in North Carolina, the freshman from Stoneham, Mass. decided to cancel her flight just in case she’d be competing at the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships.

Mondello’s premonition became a reality on Monday when the first-year swimmer found out she had made the cut for the national meet that will be held March 13-15 at Miami University’s Corwin M. Nixon Aquatic Center in Oxford, Ohio.

“It’s an overwhelming feeling,” said Mondello, who will compete in the 50-yard freestyle race. “Everyone there is going to be a great athlete.”

“We thought Rachel had a chance to be very competitive in our program and maybe break a few records,” said KSC Coach Jack Fabian. “We never thought that she’d qualify for the NCAA championships.”

Mondello, who posted her qualifying time of 24.02 seconds at the New England Championships, not only broke Owl 50 and 100 (53.91) free records and helped set four relay marks, but also becomes the first KSC women to qualify for the NCAA Championships.

It’s been over 30 years since Keene State sent athletes to the national meet. In 1975 Ron Demers earned All-America honors in the breaststroke. A year later, Demers won the award again and joined Dave Hague, Carl Arlig, Dan Caron, and Newell Roberts as a member of KSC’s All-American 400 freestyle relay team.

Since then the All-American trophy case at Spaulding Gym has been bare.

“This is a milestone for the program,” said Fabian. “Hopefully in the years ahead, we’ll qualify a relay team and more athletes for the NCAAs and really make our presence felt.”

A three-sport athlete at Stoneham High school, Mondello didn’t jump into the pool until her junior year. A top gymnast and track athlete for the Spartans, Mondello, specialized in the power events, vault and floor exercise in gymnastics and concentrated on the discus and pole vault in track. A four-time All-Middlesex league track athlete and team captain, Mondello was voted Stoneham High’s “Most Athletic” award as a senior.

Joining the swimming team was initially an after thought. “I picked it up to stay in shape and because my friends were on the team,” Mondello said.

Mondello also made a name for herself in the pool. She was a member of the first Spartan relay team to qualify for the state championships and also earned an individual berth in the 50 freestyle as a senior.

A natural athlete, Mondello has made the most of her gymnastics and track backgrounds competing for the Keene State swim team. Rachel uses her athletic ability and strength to her advantage in the water,” said Fabian. “She’s also very focused and highly-competitive.”

Competing this past weekend against Division I athletes at the ECAC Open Championships, Mondello, who placed fifth in the 50 free, thrived in the competitive atmosphere of the meet. “To step up on the blocks and know you’re competing against someone who has similar or faster times is a great adrenaline rush,” she said.

Mondello also utilizes the mental aspect of gymnastics training for the ultra- quick 50 free race. “I compare it to a gymnastics routine,” she said. A “50” is basically a start, a flip turn and a finish. “I know how many times I have to breathe and how many kicks I have to do off the wall.”

The system has worked wonders for Mondello, including at the New England Championships where she set the NCAA qualifying mark. “When I touched the wall and looked up at the board my jaw dropped when I saw my time, said Mondello, a three-time All-LEC, four-time ECAC Open, and seven-time All-New England swimmer for the Owls. “It was an awesome feeling.”

Tied for 12th among the 20 swimmers who made the national cut and the 32 additional entrants in the field, Mondello is excited about her next swimming challenge at the NCAA championships.

“I hope to come out with something great,” Mondello said. “I’m just going to go out there and swim my hardest, take it all in, and remember the experience.”

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