KINGSTON, R.I. - Senior Carly DeLiberty and sophomore Nicole Petta have the opportunity to do something that only three Rhode Island swimmers have done before them: They have the chance to swim at the AT&T USA Winter Nationals held in Atlanta, Ga. from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3.
DeLiberty and Petta, both of whom will compete in the 100-yard breaststroke, will be the first Rhody swimmers since Chaya Zabludoff in 2014 to participate in Winter Nationals.
"This is a great opportunity for both Carly and Nicole as well as for our program," said head coach Mick Westkott. "I'm excited for them since they get to swim against some of the best swimmers in the country, and, as a team, we get great exposure."
"I couldn't be more excited for the opportunity to swim at this meet," said Petta. "There is no better feeling than when all of your hard work pays off, and that is exactly how we are feeling right now."
The AT&T USA Winter Nationals are traditionally held in early December. The location has bounced around in recent years, being held in places such as Federal Way, Wash., Greensboro, N.C. and Knoxville, Tenn., before settling in Atlanta this year.
The qualification period for this year's event was between Nov. 1, 2015 and Nov. 4, 2016. In order to qualify, each swimmer had to meet a specific time in the event in which they wished to qualify.
This year, the qualifying standard in the 100-yard breaststroke was 1:03.09. Both DeLiberty and Petta reached that time at last year's Atlantic 10 Championship.
The first members of the Rhode Island swimming and diving team to compete at Winter Nationals were the trio of Colette Aubin, Emily Thomesen and Chaya Zabludoff in 2013. Zabludoff would return the next season, but no one has been back until this year.
In the 2013 event, Zabludoff finished 32nd in the 200-yard freestyle and 26th in the 500-yard freestyle. Thomesen finished 83rd in the 100-yard backstroke and 65th in the 200-yard backstroke, while Aubin finished 39th in the 100-yard butterfly.
Zabludoff, returning in 2014, finished 58th in the 500-yard freestyle, 42nd in the 200-yard freestyle and 69th in the 100-yard freestyle.
Competing in Winter Nationals is special for Petta and DeLiberty, but the fact that they're training partners makes the trip that much better for the two.
"One of the best parts about this is that I get to experience it with my training partner, Carly," said Petta. "Her and I love to push each other in practice and in meets, so this is another great chance for us to do that and make our team proud."
"I am extremely excited for this experience and very thankful that I am able to compete at the AT&T Winter Nationals with Nicole," said DeLiberty. "We both have worked so hard, side-by-side, for over a year now and I wouldn't want to change a thing. She is a tremendous role model that I look up to both in and out of the pool. I would not be the person or athlete who I am today without her by my side. Being able to experience this with Nicole is a privilege and I am ever so grateful."
"This will give us an idea on where we are in the season and what work needs to be done before the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship," said DeLiberty, who is one of three captains for the Rams this season. "We are ready for some fast swimming."
The AT&T USA Winter Nationals are set to begin on Wednesday, Nov. 30. Petta and DeLiberty are scheduled to swim in the 100-yard breaststroke around 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 2.
The meet will be shown on tape delay on NBCSN and Universal HD on Thursday through Saturday with a recap airing on NBC on Sunday. A live webcast of the entire meet will be available at usaswimming.org.