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Hampton connection helps Duquesne swimmers to success

Devon Moore
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Hampton graduate Kristen McKnight is a swimmer at Duquesne.
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Hampton graduate Clare Flanagan is a swimmer at Duquesne.
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Duquesne athletics
Hampton graduate Kristen McKnight is a swimmer at Duquesne.

Call it a happy coincidence Duquesne swimming boasts three Hampton graduates. The Dukes swim team sure does.

Senior Kristen McKnight and sophomore Clare Flanagan swim, and freshman diver Adrienne White are part of a roster that features 28 swimmers and divers, and no other high school has more than two alumni.

“To be honest, it was more of a coincidence than anything else,” said coach David Sheets, whose children attend Hampton and swim at Hampton Dolphins Swim Club. “I have formed a relationship with those kids and families over the course of time. It has just really worked out for us.”

Things have been working out for Duquesne swimming, too. The Dukes followed consecutive second-place finishes at the Atlantic 10 championships with its first conference championship last year. Sheets was named conference coach of the year.

McKnight was part of the winning 200-yard medley relay team that helped the Dukes outlast Richmond, which had won 15 of the last 16 conference titles.

“We try to keep ourselves pretty grounded,” Sheets said. “It’s pretty unspoken we want to repeat, but in our program, we just talk about doing everything right, carry ourselves as a winning program and focusing on those things that helped cultivate where we are.”

McKnight has participated in two school-record relay teams: the 200 medley and 200 freestyle. She recently finished fourth in the 50 freestyle at the Western Pennsylvania Invitational.

“It’s been great,” said McKnight, who chose Duquesne because of its six-year physical therapy program. “I always say each team is unique. You never get the same team twice. Seeing what you have at the beginning of the season to where you go at the end, it’s always interesting.”

McKnight, a state qualifier in high school, has developed her butterfly stroke and leadership capabilities over the past four years.

“She’s a true leader in our program,” Sheets said. “Works hard every day. The great thing about our program is we have great mentors. The upperclassmen help our freshmen and sophomores along. That’s what they did for Kris, and now she is doing it for the underclassmen.”

Sheets said McKnight has a shot at the 50 freestyle school record “on the right day,” though she has come to appreciate the fly as well.

“In high school, I didn’t do (the fly) as much,” McKnight said. “It was something different that I had room to improve in college. It kept it interesting and kept me motivated.”

Flanagan was a backstroke specialist and state qualifier at Hampton. After dedicating time to focus on her specialty, she is seeing success.

She posted a third-place finish in the 100 backstroke at the FIU Invitational in Florida the first weekend in January, which helped the Dukes to a second-place finish.

“Clare is definitely a hard worker,” Sheets said. “She’s got good swimming smarts, knows her races and is easy to coach. She makes me a better coach because she asks a lot of questions.”

Flanagan, who aspires to work in biomedical engineering, wanted a school that could strike the proper balance between a demanding major and athletic schedule.

“The great advantage of Duquesne was I could be both an athlete and a student,” she said. “You don’t get that everywhere. Sometimes one schedule overtakes the other. Here, I could do both and do both successfully.”

The Hampton connection goes beyond its swimmers. Talbots coach Morgan Zweygardt is a former Duquesne swimmer.

“I think one of the things about Hampton,” Sheets said, “The way Morgan coaches them, she wants them to perform their best when they’re in college. It’s an untapped program. I felt the potential was unlimited for all of them as long as they put the work in.”

Devon Moore is a freelance writer.