2009 Men's Swimming & Diving Season Preview
Georgia said goodbye to four seniors from last year’s squad and has just three on this year’s roster. Because of that, the Lady Bulldogs have been in a transition of sorts. However, with a bevy of strong returning talent and the third-best recruiting class in the nation as determined by CollegeSwimming.com, the Lady Bulldogs should once again be in contention for the SEC and NCAA championships at season’s end.
A year ago, the Lady Bulldogs recorded a seventh-place national finish and a third-place conference finish, plus they claimed the national dual-meet championship with a perfect 12-0 mark. Moreover, Georgia continued its dominance at home, extending its Gabrielsen Natatorium mark to 62 straight. With one of the strongest recruiting classes in the nation and nine returning scorers from last season’s NCAAs, the 2009 campaign should be very exciting for the Lady Bulldogs as they hope to return to the top this spring.
“This year’s senior class is a small one and will be counted on to lead this group,” said head coach Jack Bauerle. “Our strength will be the talent and depth of our freshman and sophomore classes, which not only looks good for this year but looks great for the future.”
In the sprint races, the Lady Bulldogs lost Anna Miller to graduation but return 41.06several young swimmers and add a few others who provide Georgia with significant depth in each distance. In the 50, the top four swimmers return from last season’s depth chart, including Anne-Marie Botek, Lauren English,
Jessica Cole and Emily Montesinos. Botek, English and Cole all scored at last season’s SECs, finishing eighth, 14th and 15th, respectively. Cole (12th) and Kelly McNichols (sixth) were scorers in the 100 free at the SECs.
Chelsea Nauta and Morgan Scroggy were All-Americans in the 200 free last season and the sophomores will be counted on for the same kind of effort this year. Adding to that depth is freshman Allison Schmitt, who was a member of Team USA’s bronze-medal winning 800 freestyle relay in the Beijing Olympics.
Nauta placed in the top eight at NCAAs in the 500 free and Kelsey Ditto recorded the third-fastest time at the meet in a consolation finals victory. Wendy Trott, another incoming freshman Olympian (from South Africa), and Schmitt will be significant contributors. In the distance races, Ditto finished third in the 1,650 free at the NCAAs and Nauta was a qualifier in the event. Trott finished ninth in the 800 free in the Olympics and will make the Lady Bulldogs even deeper in these races.
The Lady Bulldogs return two backstrokers who were participants at the NCAAs in 2007. Aleksandra Putra is the leader of the pack with a total of 10 All-America honors to her credit. She is expected to be one of Georgia’s top options in the backstroke discipline. Scroggy was an NCAA qualifier in both distances and was an Olympic Trials finalist in the 200 during the summer. Nauta, Lauren English and Kristen Shickora, who was one of the top backstroke recruits in the country, will provide additional depth in the events.
The Lady Bulldogs sent three swimmers to the NCAA Championship and all three will be returning this season. Colleen Haase and Mhyria Miller qualified in both distances, while McNichols was an Honorable Mention All-American after placing 16th in the 100-yard distance. Haase narrowly missed the championship heats, finishing 17th in the preliminaries. To this mix, the Lady Bulldogs will add Michelle McKeehan, a freshman who was one of the top two prep breaststrokers in the nation last season.
The Lady Bulldogs lose valuable performers with the departure of Elizabeth Hill and Karen Guilkey, who qualified for the NCAA Championship in both races with Hill earning All-America status in the 200. Returning, however, is junior All-American Annie Broome, who joined the team in January and quickly became one of the top performers. Broome (100 and 200), Botek (100), Lisa Caprioglio (100) and Lauren Cartwright (200) return to provide additional support in both distances,
as will incoming freshmen Schmitt and Abigail Fish.
A collection of talented swimmers comprises the individual medley crew. Courtney Monsees, Cartwright and Miller qualified for the NCAAs in the 200-yard distance and Cartwright also was a qualifier in the 400. McNichols, Scroggy and Putra are veterans who could potentially contribute in the IM, and newcomers Fish, McKeehan, Trott and Erica Malagón should be welcomed additions in these events. McKeehan finished her high school career as the second-best high school 200-yard individual medley swimmer of all-time.
The freestyle relays lost almost half of their swimmers from a year ago, so that means several individuals will be able to step in. In the 200 relay, Jennings and Kata are the two returning sprinters and the remaining spots will be contested between Arnold, Green, Lavender and Shane Hall. The 400 relay returns three swimmers in Dylla, Jennings and Kata. Many of the same swimmers who will compete for the two openings in the 200 relay will be in the running for the final spot in the 400. Dylla and Prinsloo are the two returnees from the 800 relay team that finished ninth at last year’s NCAAs. Benner, Cregar and Kata will be frontrunners for the two openings. On the medley relays, Dylla occupied the butterfly legs in both races and Versfeld’s return at breaststroke will be an improvement.
Bauerle said the top two or three swimmers in each stroke will have a chance to earn spots on either relay.
The Georgia diving teams appear to have the perfect mix of experienced veterans and promising prospects heading into the 2008-09 season.
On the women’s side, Hannah Moore established herself as a diver to watch last season. Georgia’s first NCAA Championship qualifier since 2001, Moore earned All-America honors on the 3-meter springboard with a fourth-place showing (setting the school record in the process) at the NCAAs. Moore also won the Zone B title on 3-meter and became the Lady Bulldogs’ first SEC medalist since 2002 as she placed third on 3-meter.
“We did everything right with her,” Georgia diving coach Dan Laak said. “If she can take off from where she was last year, she will be heading in the right direction.”
And Moore credits her gains to Laak.
“I definitely owe my improvements I made last year to him,” Moore said. “He just has a way of coaching that I understand, and he knows what is best for me.” Moore will be joined on this year’s team by Lexie Bryant and Landon Watters. Bryant qualified for the Zone B Championship on the 1-meter springboard but was unable to compete because of injury.
“I just want Lexie to finish with no injuries this season,” Laak said. “I know she can score some very valuable points at dual meets and SECs.”
Watters was a three-time record holder in diving in school and qualified for the state championship three times. Watters is an exceptional athlete who not only is a standout diver but who also excelled at pole vaulting and gymnastics during her high school days.
“Landon is very athletic and has so much potential,” Laak said. “If she improves like I think she can, I know she can help out at conference.”
On the men’s side, the Bulldogs will be going through a transition following the departure of Chris Colwill. Colwill was a 2008 Olympian who ended his career with three individual national titles and two NCAA Diver of the Year honors. Colwill is training for additional international meets, including the 2012 Olympics in London.
“We have been training with the best, which will obviously help us as a team in competition,” said Webb Worthington, who will lead the charge as the Bulldogs attempt to qualify a male for the NCAAs for the 11th straight year.
Worthington knows what it takes to go because he has been able to spend three seasons training with Colwill. Said Worthington said, “His continual strive to achieve perfection has made me want to do more. I’ve already tried to go above and beyond what is expected of me because I know that is what it takes because of Chris.”
Worthington has advanced to Zones each of his first three years, but is looking for his first appearance at the NCAAs. He said he also hopes to medal at the SECs.
“Webb has already demonstrated that he is a good leader,” Laak said. “He wants his senior year to be the best. Webb knows he’s the head guy, and that the guys are going to be looking up to him like he looked up to Chris.”
Tim Barrett enters his second year with the program after making significant improvement last season.
“I am hoping Tim will be more consistent this year,” Laak said. “I think he will be key to dual meets and at conference.”
Laak is also very excited about the addition of Owen Blank. Blank is from the diving mecca of Moultrie, same town as Moore. Blank was a four-time high school All-America in diving and medaled four times at Georgia state championship meets on 1-meter.
“I have been watching Owen dive for a long time, and I am very excited that he is a Bulldog,” Laak said. “He is a great kid and will help us out tremendously.”
The Zone B Championship, the only way Georgia’s divers can qualify for the NCAA Championship, will be held March 13-15 in Knoxville, Tenn.