The 2012-13 Western Kentucky University swimming and diving team's season is only days away, as the team takes on Delta State on Saturday, October 13 at 1 p.m. in Bill Powell Natatorium.
Both the men and women's team finished as runner-up in the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Championship, but with 36 returners and 21 newcomers, the Hilltoppers and Lady Toppers have their eyes on winning their respective conference championships this season.
Back in the Water
In the sprint events, two returners there that WKU is really going to lean on are sophomore Paige Drazga and senior Hilary Mishler. Both had great conference championships, as each scored in three events. For the men, a strong core of senior Billy Kunkel and junior Heitor Rodrigues are the top returners along with senior Jordan Vorst. Kunkel placed second in the 100 free and third in the 50 free at the conference championships while Rodrigues won the 50 free on his way to being named Co-Sun Belt Conference Male Swimmer of the Year.
For middle distance, two returners will be the mainstay according to WKU head coach Bruce Marchionda. Returning to WKU after having a great opening year is Susan Marquess. Marquess set the school record in the 500 free while scoring in three events at the Sun Belt Conference Championships. Senior Alex Van Oost will also be called on heavily in the free event, as she recorded 19 top-5 finishes during the season last year. Returners for the men are very strong with junior Neal Rushing and senior Tom Gasnick. Rushing had a third-place finish in the 200 free while Gasnick had a season-best time in the 200 free at the league championships. "We are also hoping that senior David Rayner will also be able to swim in that middle distance for us this year and get some things done," Marchionda said.
At distance, senior Laurel Chaney is coming off a great year after breaking the school record in the 1000 and 1650, so Marchionda said she will be the main person there. Samantha Holmes will also be a strong returner for the Lady Toppers, as she finished second three times in the 1000 free. Marquess may also venture in this year more toward that distance swimming for WKU. Sophomore Loui Little and junior Elliott Lorson return for the men. Little won the 500 free and 1000 free at a couple of meets during the regular season, and Lorson finished in fifth at the SBC Championships in the 1650 free.
Newcomers in the Lanes
The Lady Toppers will be looking toward junior Natalie Lenderman and freshman Tara Blanzy in the sprint events. "We are going to try to look for some help there from them and that is going to be an important component for us just to get more depth at that event," Marchionda said. Brennan Elsas will make his collegiate debut and is expected to step up and help along with junior college transfer Richard Russell, who Marchionda said is "a very good sprinter and we're hoping that he really takes off for us there."
Middle distance will see a few newcomers into the picture with sophomore Rebecca Hatcher and freshmen Mollie McNeel and Michelle Craddock to add depth to that program. Marchionda and the coaching staff are hoping some newcomers like Elsas will move up toward the middle level. Freshmen Chris Goodman and Tommy VerBrugge will also be seen as major contributors.
McNeel is expected to help WKU in its longer distances while Marchionda feels that Dobrovolskaite can have a pretty good 500 and help the team out there. Marchionda also hopes that freshman Harry Griffin will become a factor for the men's team.
Back in the Water
According to Marchionda, butterfly will continue to be one of the women's team's weaker events due to the graduation of Claire Donahue and Chelsea Stephens. However, Courtney Marx continues to improve and will help out the team there.
"We have some very good returners that are going to hold down the fort there," said Marchionda of the men's butterfly. Rodrigues returns for his junior year after setting the school record holder in the 100 fly. Sophomore Jake Schoeff is coming off a great year where he posted seven top-10 times in his freshman year while Vorst will be in more sprints in the fly events after scoring in three events in the Sun Belt Championships last year. Sophomore Tyler Groneck will also be in the mix after placing sixth in the 100 fly at the championships.
Newcomers in the Lanes
Transfers from other four-year colleges will be looked upon to help in the fly events for the women. Aiste Dobrovolskaite, who is new to the program after transferring from Iowa, "is really going to have to step up and help us there," Marchionda said. Rebecca Hatcher, a sophomore from Michigan State, will also be called to help out. "It will definitely be one of those events that we could use a little help in, so we will kind of see."With four pretty solid guys returning to the fly events, a couple of newcomers could still be added. Freshman David Owens could be used at times while Marchionda said a couple of others, like newcomer Russ Bryant, with a little improvement, will have impact in the fly events.