A new year brings new challenges and adventures. For the Western Kentucky University swimming and diving team, that statement holds true, as a mixture of new and old faces brings enthusiasm to the 2012-13 season.
What will not be new is the Toppers and Lady Toppers' goal at the end of the season-a conference championship. For the men, a chance at a conference championship comes with new competition in Conference USA. As for the women, after taking the Sun Belt Conference title eight times since 2001 (2001-05, 2008-10), WKU came up just short the past two years, taking second behind Denver.
Using an offseason full of improving, competition and Olympic excitement, WKU is already on its way to achieving its goals.
"We had a very good summer," WKU head coach Bruce Marchionda said. "We had 24 swimmers that dedicated their summer to staying here and getting better, which is always a great thing, and that was highlighted by the seven swimmers that represented WKU in the Olympic Trials, and obviously (former WKU swimmer) Claire Donahue making the Olympic team. We also had a number of our swimmers who were swimming very well at some of the other meets."
Entering his 11th season on the Hill and eighth as head coach, Marchionda likes what he sees from this year's squad through preseason practices and workouts, as 21 newcomers, including five transfers, and 36 returners compile this season's team.
"We have a real good blend of new blood, whether they are freshmen or transfer students," said Marchionda. "All those transfer students will have an immediate impact on what we are doing. A little bit older, so they have been around, so their work ethic is good, and we are excited about that.
"The true freshmen coming in, we have a lot of new faces there, which is exciting. We just have a good blend of the new faces and the returners. We have some great leadership from the upperclassmen as far as returners are concerned. It is just seems right now to be a very good mix of what everybody is trying to accomplish."
Marchionda said he is also very pleased with how WKU's schedule came together, as it provides WKU with tough competition before the conference championships at the end of February and early March. WKU opens the 2012-13 campaign with Delta State at home on October 13 at 1:00 p.m. before the team's annual Red and White Meet on October 27 at 1:00 p.m. The men then head north to take on Northwestern and University of Illinois-Chicago in Illinois while the women head down to Nashville, Tenn., to match up with Vanderbilt and Tulane. The semester ends with the Hilltopper Invitational as well as the Miami (OH) Invitational in Oxford, Ohio.
"We are excited about going to Miami (OH) because there will be six or seven teams there and a lot of those teams will be going after their national cuts, so that will provide some excellent competition for us to kind of see where we are midseason," said Marchionda. "We are really excited because their facility is great, and we are looking for some great swims at that point."
WKU will then head down to the Sunshine State in January and face in-conference foe Florida Atlantic and Nova Southeastern. After, WKU comes back for its Senior Day against Evansville and then starts preparations for the conference championships.
"The Sun Belt on the women's side will again be a very difficult road," said Marchionda. "North Texas and Florida International are the top teams there that we are going to have to beat, and we feel that we have a legitimate shot of bringing the title back to Bowling Green. Obviously that is our primary goal right now.
"The men are going to Conference USA, and Southern Methodist University is very good and they will provide every challenge that we could ever think of. East Carolina, who will also be there, is another very good school. We want to be battling for the championship in our first year in Conference USA, so it will be interesting to see how our guys respond to that. We are looking forward to the challenges, and it's a great schedule, so I'm excited."
Continue to check back with WKUSports.com for a preview of each event for the upcoming season.