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by Katharine Palmer
Virginia Athletics Media Relations

All Claire Crippen has done in her three years as a UVa swimmer is help the team to three Atlantic Coast Conference championships, become a three-time All-American, win two ACC individual titles and set the school record in the 400 individual medley.

But growing up in Conshohocken, Pa., as a standout at Germantown Academy, Crippen did not want to come to UVa at first. You see, her older brother Fran was a member of four ACC championship men’s teams from 2002-06 as a Cavalier. She didn’t want to be compared to her sibling; she was ready for a change.

Maddy Crippen, oldest daughter of Peter and Patricia, swam at Villanova and was a United States Olympian at the 2000 Sydney Games. Fran, after all he accomplished at UVa, currently swims for the U.S. National Team on the open water circuit. The youngest, Teresa, is a junior All-American at Florida, which won the 2010 NCAA Championship. You could say the Crippens are pretty good in the water.

But you can also understand why Claire, as a high schooler, would brush off UVa and look to make her own mark.

“I didn’t want to swim here when I was younger,” she said. “We all went to the same high school, had the same club coach. All four of us swim relatively the same events. Every day in high school we were compared to each other. I didn’t want to be in that atmosphere anymore. I wanted something different.”

Bernardino, now in his 33rd season at the helm of his alma mater, contacted Crippen on the first day of the recruiting period. He was familiar with the Crippen family, having coached Fran. He also was familiar with Claire’s high school accomplishments.

“I scheduled a trip,” Crippen said.

“I told Mark in the meeting, the one thing I didn’t want in college was to be compared to Maddy and Fran for four more years,” she continued. “He told me he didn’t have time to compare and remember his past swimmers – he can only concentrate on his current swimmers who are in the pool right now. No one had every told me that before; I loved hearing that.

“I loved the team. I loved Grounds. It was relatively close to home, which was important for me. It all fell into place.”

While Claire was breaking the school record and winning the conference title in the 400 IM as a first year at UVa, Teresa was preparing to head to Florida to continue swimming. Luckily, Claire and Teresa get the opportunity to swim against each other a few times a year.

Virginia and Florida regularly meet for a dual meet early in the season – for the last two years, and again this year, it will be the first meet of the year. Then there is the NCAA Championships, and usually another national event in the summer in which the youngest Crippen sisters find themselves competing against each other.

“Every meet we swim in, we are always swimming next to each other – it’s so odd!” Crippen said. “We don’t even have to look at the heat sheets anymore. But it’s a lot of fun because her strengths are my weaknesses and my strengths are her weaknesses. It’s a lot of battling back and forth. People will always tell you it’s just like in practice, and it really is like that for us. We swam side-by-side for three years in high school. I don’t think I totally appreciate it right now; I think it will take me a few years to miss it. It’s a lot of fun.”

The 2010-11 swimming season will mark the last for Claire Crippen to get the opportunity to race against Teresa. Aside from that, though, the fourth year team captain is also looking to help the Cavaliers make school history.

“I’m really so proud and happy for Claire,” Fran Crippen said. “She’s grown tremendously as an athlete and a young woman since she began at Virginia three years ago. She has made a name for herself at UVa and has done so with a smile and an unbeatable attitude.”

The 2011 class – which includes Crippen, Katya Bachrouche, Hannah Davis, Amanda Faulkner, Jennings Grant, Kristen Moores, Anne Summer Myers and Liz Shaw – could be the first women’s class to leave with four ACC championships.

“After ACCs last year, I got chills down my spine when I started thinking about the 2011 ACCs,” Crippen said. “I wasn’t thinking about NCAAs which were two weeks away. Still, when I am training, that’s what I am thinking about. It’s going to be so surreal if we can do this. And we have a long way to go – it’s not going to be easy. We have some really good teams we are swimming against this year and it’s all in preparation for that.”

The road begins Oct. 11 at Florida.

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