By: ANTHONY PISANI
KINGSTON, R.I. – Senior Katie Mangano is the only Rhode Island native on the women's swimming & diving team of 37.
Of her four fellow senior teammates, only Jennifer Lopez is also from New England, specifically Connecticut. Kaitlin McGeehan hails from New Jersey, Nina Smith from Florida, and Sasha White from California.
"I think it's great being able to swim for my home state of Rhode Island," Mangano said. "I grew up competing in R.I. and all around New England."
Mangano started out swimming at the Westerly YMCA for coach John Girard, who she said first noticed her talent and inspired her to continue competing throughout high school. She then swam for Westerly High School for Kerri and Josh Butler, both former URI swimmers, she said.
"They encouraged me to join the local USA swimming team, RAMS swim club, where I swam for Matt Emmert and Keri Cunningham," Mangano added. "This is where my focus really began for swimming and I started to set bigger goals for myself."
Mangano said she remembers seeing the Rhode Island record board as a senior at Westerly and knew that she wanted to see her name on the list in Tootell.
"I signed with coach Mick for the URI team and knew this was the right fit for me. Being a R.I. native, my family and friends are able to make it to all my swim meets. It helps seeing them in the stands for support; not everyone has that opportunity seeing as my teammates are from all over the country."
In the fall of 2008, Mangano came to Kingston, R.I. as a freshman.
"Coming in as a freshman in 2008 gave me an interesting prospective on the team," Mangano said. "I knew we were just starting to grow and become the best team we've ever had at URI (and) I had the opportunity to be a part of this improvement and I was committed to help the team reach its goals."
Since Mangano has been at Rhode Island, the Rams have continued to improve and place higher at the Atlantic 10 Championship meet, she said. In 2009, Rhode Island placed 10th, and in both 2010 and 2011, Rhode Island improved three spots to finish seventh.
During the 2009 A-10's, on the first day of competition, Mangano was part of the 200-yard medley relay team that set a URI varsity record that had previously stood for nine years. And in 2010, she was part of the 200-yard freestyle relay team that clocked a varsity record.
"It's awesome to see how much the team has improved since I was a freshman and I am confident it will continue to reach bigger and better things in years to come," Mangano said.
At the end of her junior season in April 2011, while attending the swimming & diving program's 31st annual Fast Lane Club Awards Banquet, where the team's accomplishments were celebrated, Mangano earned the Coaches' Award for Most Improved and was also named one of three captains for the 2011-12 campaign, with fellow seniors Lopez and McGeehan.
"I was proud to be named captain alongside two of my best friends Kaitlin McGeehan and Jennifer Lopez," Mangano said. "Together we've led the team through a successful season."
Mangano did note that it was a little difficult captaining in the beginning of this season with the squad welcoming 17 freshmen. "Very fast freshmen," Mangano said. But the freshmen class has helped the Rams -- pushed them to be better in practice and ultimately have better performances at meets, she said. The freshmen brought Rhode Island to a new level of competitiveness.
"This was made clear at our meet against UNH where we took eight first places and only lost by 10 points, whereas last year (UNH) beat us by about 35 points and won nearly every event," Mangano said.
"Together with my fellow captains I believe we have built a strong bond between the team and believe it has helped us strive for success together."
Remember how Mangano, when still at Westerly High School, said that she wanted to see her name on the Rhode Island record board? Nearly four years later, with only the A-10's left to compete in as a Rhody swimmer, Mangano's name is up on that board – numerous times.
The 200-yard backstroke. The 200-yard freestyle relay. The 200-yard medley relay. The 400-yard freestyle relay. This past December in the Harold Anderson Invitational alone, Mangano set new times in both the 400-yard medley relay and the 100-yard freestyle, and tied the previous 50-yard freestyle.
"My view on records is that they are meant to be broken," Mangano said.
"They show the improvement of the team and if you look at the board now 90% of the records are from the past couple of years. This shows how far we have come."
In last year A-10's, Mangano was .01 seconds off the 50-yard freestyle.
"That was pretty devastating to be so close," Mangano said.
"Now everyday at practice I look up at the record board to remind myself of my goals. There is no doubt in my mind that myself or a fellow teammate will take down that 12-year-old record."
Mangano is very confident in herself and her teammates in how Rhode Island will compete in the four-day A-10's this year, which begin on Feb. 22 in Buffalo, N.Y. Rhode Island will surprise its competition, she said, saying that Rhody's relays this year may be the fastest they've ever brought into the conference meet.
"This is my last conference meet and will probably be my last swim meet ever so it will be bitter sweet," Mangano said. "However, I will walk away from the pool with very fond memories of my days on the URI swim team."