Rutgers Grad Trio Of Madison Murtagh, Rachel Kimmel, Alice Scarabelli Leading Historic Surge of Scarlet Knights

Rutgers Women's Swimming and Diving, Piscataway, NJ. 11/18/2022 Photo by Steve Hockstein/HarvardStudio.com
Rutgers swimmers Madison Murtagh, Rachel Kimmel and Alice Scarabelli. Photo Courtesy: Steve Hockstein/Harvard Studio.com via Rutgers Athletics

Rutgers Grad Trio Of Madison Murtagh, Rachel Kimmel, Alice Scarabelli Leading Historic Surge of Scarlet Knights

Once an afterthought in the world of swimming, Rutgers University is putting a winning team together piece by piece — and it starts with team culture. The Scarlet Knights have brought in several graduate students who are elevating the pace in practice, and elevating the team bonding, especially – Madison Murtagh, Rachel Kimmel and Alice Scarabelli.

The Rutgers trio of grad students are in the same masters program, enhancing their bond on the team as the Scarlet Knights continue to build into a Big Ten contender.

“Every Wednesday the three of us get coffee together. It has been a good friendship,” Murtagh said. “It has honestly been a great experience so far. We usually discuss some of what we are learning. It has been a good way of adjusting, having people in the same program as me. I am in most of the same classes as Rachel. If I didn’t understand something, she could explain it and vice versa.”

That bond has helped them in swimming, too.

“It is great. Madison is a grad transfer like me. We take classes together,” Kimmel said. “There is always a lot to talk about. We are always studying together. It is nice to have the support and commonality. You never feel like you are alone. Sometimes it is hard to balance things but everyone is going through the same thing. Alice is a little further ahead, but she definitely helps us out. It is nice to have that connection. The girls are really great, they really support you.”

Scarabelli is a year ahead in the group’s communication program. She is happy to have some company in her program from her teammates.

“It is pretty cool. Last year, I was the only one. It is cool to be able to talk with each other about assignments, papers, class, and rely on each other. It made us connect more. We share on a daily basis. I feel less alone,” said Scarabelli, an international student from Milan.

alice-scarabelli-rutgers-MADISON, WI - FEBRUARY 19: Big Ten Women's Swimming and Diving Championship on February 19, 2022 at the Soderholm Family Aquatic Center in Madison, WI. (Photo by Lawrence Iles)

Alica Scarabelli. Photo Courtesy: Lawrence Iles/Rutgers Athletics

The trio has been instrumental in showcasing that growing culture at Rutgers.

“We take our team culture incredibly seriously,” Rutgers coach Jon Maccoll said. “That was mission one when I started. We do team building every single week. That has been a big part of it. Having them in a same program is great. Having great programs and multiple sections has helped everyone. They are never caught off guard with anything because they all have people there with them. The culture is on track and we know what we want.”

With the culture rising, so is the speed.

The Scarlett Knights defeated Purdue for the first time in Big Ten competition, the relays have been breaking school records and the grad trio — and more — are chasing down NCAA qualifying times.

All of that success is contagious.

“I am happy for the team. It is good when you can be inspired by your teammates,” Scarabelli said. “Sometimes we are inspired by great athletes all over the world, but sometimes we really need to stop and see what is around us and be inspired by what people around us are doing.”

The biggest inspirational moment was that dual meet win over Purdue. It was a two-day meet that built over the course of the weekend. The Scarlet Knights even DQed a relay and still had enough.

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Rachel Kimmel. Photo Courtesy: Rutgers Athletics

“It was awesome. I think I teared up,” Kimmel said. “We put it all in together. It was a team effort. It felt so rewarding. It was exciting seeing that work starting to show. It shows that we are here and we are competitive. You can’t just brush us off that easily. A lot of it is the mentality. We had a meeting at the beginning of the school year defining what our program is going to be. We wanted to be an elite program. That goes into our training. We have high expectations. We don’t take an easy lap. We are always talking about grit and staying after it.”

That was the message to the team before the meet.

“It has been amazing. I know at Purdue, I didn’t realize how big of a deal that was until right before,” Murtagh said. “I and I kept telling the team that we were going to win. We had a dance party on the locker room. Everybody was happy and energized. And we went out and swam fast. It was a really cool experience. We had a relay DQd but we still got it done.”
Scarabelli was just as excited.

“It was pretty exciting, I am not going to lie,” Scarabelli said. “I was here last year when we lost. This year was really good. I almost couldn’t believe it until the very end. I was so proud of everyone. We had a really good time and we are going to remember that day for a very long time, not just because we won, but what we went through.”

Now, the Scarlet Knights are looking to build toward the Big Ten and NCAA Championships.

“It has been good. We have some high goals. We are not the least bit satisfied. We were leading at Harvard and Princeton and ended up a couple of swims away,” Maccoll said. “A few years ago we only had a few kids. I am proud of the develop. In year five, we have hit our stride with knowing who fits the culture as far as freshman or grad students. The women are getting faster, and the grad students stand out in that regard, but we have freshman (and others) swimming extremely fast.

“We are doing very well, I’d give us a B in recruiting freshmen. What is really interesting is that athletes who have been through the process really seem to like us. We have a ton of transfers and grad students. I find it interesting that athletes who are a little more mature and understand things a little more, seems to want to come to Rutgers.”

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Madison Murtagh. Photo Courtesy: Rutgers Athletics

But there are enough freshmen coming in each year to continue to build, along with the grad students.

“We obviously want to win every meet we can, but every year I have been here, we have had kids at NCAAs. We were 27th last year and now diving has been huge for us and the grad transfers and recruits,” Maccoll said. “That has put us in position that we could be a top 25 team at NCAAs every year. That would take 20-25 points from swimming and 20-25 points from diving. That is very possible. We have to get some relays there and relays scoring.”

Kimmel will be a big part of the relays, especially the medley relays. She is a breaststroke specialist that swam Division I at St. Bonaventure before coming to Rutgers. Her top times are 1:00.75 in the 100 and 2:12.85 in the 200.

“I am excited to see what I go at Big Tens. I would like to go under a minute on my 100 breast. I would love to make it to NCAAs. If we could get a relay or two, that would be amazing, too. It is going to be a team effort to get the relay there. It requires the whole team to get there,” Kimmel said. “This is my last year and I have loved it so far. I just want to make sure I have fun and appreciate the time I have left.

“I love when I finish championship season. I swam in the Atlantic 10 Conference and now I am in the Big Ten. Finishing that last race and knowing the team has put it all the work, it is exhausting but wonderful.”

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Rachel Kimmel. Photo Courtesy: Rutgers Athletics

The Scarlet Knights are looking to keep that wonderful feeling going.

“This year is getting even better. We have a great culture here. I felt a part of something bigger than I have in my life. In Italy we don’t have the same situations there. I grew as a person and an athlete,” said Scarabelli, who swims the backstroke and shorter freestyle events. Her top times in the freestyle events are 23.94 (50), 49.40 (100), 1:45.67 (200) and 4:44.56 (500). In the backstroke events she has been a 53.29 and 1:59.08 “I want to enjoy my last year, for sure. Aiming for Big Tens and fingers crossed, NCAAs.”

Murtagh is hoping for the same thing, but in longer races. The former Penn State swimmer is a distance freestyle specialist for the Scarlet Knights. Her times have been as fast as 1:49.91 (200), 4:48.50 (500), 9:51.95 (1,000) and 16:23.96 (1,500).

“I have been going faster than I ever have in dual meets. I am always wanting to do better, even if I go really fast. When I do go really fast, it builds my confidence, but then I want to go faster,” Murtagh said. “I really want to make NCAAs. I want the team to do really well. I want us to finish higher than we did last year and more girls make NCAAs.

“This group of girls is amazing and I am super excited for us.”

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