SEATTLE, Oct. 4. IT was only a short time ago that a swim program at Seattle University was but a remote possibility, but head coach Craig Mallery and his band of dedicated athletes quickly emerged into a national powerhouse, capped of by last year's men's NAIA national championship and women's second-place finish.
As if tackling the NAIA's top programs wasn't a tough
enough test for what is still a relatively new program, the Redhawks will now have a new challenge ahead of them as a member of the Pacific Collegiate Swim Conference and NCAA Division II affiliation, a jump of great proportions in terms of qualifying standards.
"As we move to Division II, we prepare for a transition to the next, higher level. In a sense it's like starting over, but, unlike when the team began
six years ago, we now have history, experience and leadership to build a solid foundation for future success," said head coach Craig Mallery. "There
is no question that Division II is a stronger domain. Having gone to the top of the NAIA, this is the next step for our continued success."
Although Mallery lost all-Americans Chris Garcia, Elliott Kolbe and Luc Lamarche, he returns a strong nucleus of last year's championship team. Eleven letterwinners from last year's team, along with a strong recruiting class of seven incoming freshman and the return of junior Matt Oleson, who took last season off, step to the pool this season for the Redhawks.
"The men's team is developing exactly how it should, each year progressing with greater talent, greater leadership and greater depth. They are well-positioned to make an impact at the Division II level immediately," Mallery said. "They have a strong returning squad complimented by the strongest recruiting class we've ever had in terms of its depth."
For leadership, Mallery will look to seniors Chris Forgie and Joe Laughlin, who have both had quite impressive careers in three years with the swim
team. Forgie has earned four NAIA all-American awards in backstroke events and was honored as an academic All-American last season.
Laughlin is a powerful swimmer who can dominate the sprint events, specifically the butterfly and freestyle. These two have both received all-American
recognition on several SU relays and provide the team with a tremendous amount of experience in big meets.
Versatility is certainly something this team is not lacking, and Mallery has several options for swimmers that can handle a variety of events for the Redhawks. Seniors Quinn Baker and Don Hildwein have primarily filled this role for the Redhawks. Last year, Baker placed at the national meet in the 200-breaststroke and 400-individual medley, and became the team's first ever diver, placing ninth at nationals. Although his strongest event is the breaststroke, Hildwein competed in a number of events last season and placed in the top 10 in three different events at the NAIA meet.
Mallery may also turn to sophomore Ben Newcomb, primarily a distance swimmer, to fill any gaps in the Seattle lineup when needed. Junior Bill Tollett is another swimmer who can handle a variety of roles for the Redhawks. Last season, he competed at all distances in the freestyle and swam the 200-back, 400-individual medley and 1500-free at the national meet.
While Newcomb and Tollett will serve large roles as distance swimmers, senior Sean Seaver, who had a monster season as junior transfer last year, anchors that event. Seaver set new team records in all the distance events last season and picked up three all-American finishes at the national meet. Junior Zach Mueller also had great success in distance events for the Redhawks last season and will be called upon for that role again this year, along with mid-distance back and free events.
Two other members of Mallery's talented freshman class last season will fill vital roles for Seattle this year. Jonathan Bartsch is a great individual medley swimmer and will likely compete in the backstroke quite a bit on top of that. Ryan Denzer is a great freestyle swimmer and will compete in many of the sprint events and in the backstroke as well.
Oleson and sophomore Andre Davis join Laughlin to form a very nice trio in the butterfly. After sitting out last season, Oleson will try to return to the form that made him a regular contributor two years ago. Davis placed in both fly events at the national meet last season and is a strong freestylist as well.
Mallery did a tremendous job of filling his needs with some of the area's top recruits. He will look to class 3A state champion Matt Oram to fill a huge void in the breaststroke caused by the departure of Kolbe. Cori Bemis is another newcomer who could have a big impact this year as evidenced by his class 4A state titles in the back and fly. Jeffrey Foucrier and Jesse Shelton will help bolster the sprint freestyle lineup, while Foucrier will likely compete in the back as well. Rui Ewald and the team's first ever diving recruit, Phil Guillen, also factor to be steady contributors for the
"As we saw in the NAIA, it takes both depth and talent to have an impact at the national level. We possess both of those," Mallery said. "The men are positioned to bring a large squad to the national meet, and that depth could prove to be a strong contributing factor."
On the women's side, Mallery takes even less of a hit to his lineup despite losing six letterwinners. Mallery still returns 13 letterwinners from last
years NAIA second place team. The biggest void was left by the departure of sprint specialist Gretchen Denzer, who swam on two Seattle All-American relays. However, all-Americans Kristen Michener and Merceda Rivera have proven they are capable of carrying the Redhawks in that department.
"Last year, we had such an exceptional recruiting class that returns with a year of experience," Mallery said. "That is a very strong core group led by
consistently strong swimmers. Division II will require a greater amount of depth, and that will continue to be our recruiting focus."
Rivera earned a national championship in the 100-butterfly last year and currently holds the team records in both fly events as well as the 50-free.
Michener established new team records in the 100, 200 and 500-freestyles, and anchored three all-American relays at the national meet last year.
One area Mallery will turn to for strong finishes again will be the distance events, and the two most successful swimmers in the program's history. Megan
Ackerman and Kristin Johansing, two of just three seniors on this year's roster, hope to have the same type of impact at the Division II level as they have had in three seasons of dominant performances in the NAIA.
Ackerman is a pure distance swimmer, a consistent nationals threat in the 1650-free. Johansing is stronger in the middle distance events, where she
has been a multiple all-American in the free and IM.
The Redhawks hope to get another big season out of their only other individual all-American, Marion Gallagher. As a freshman last season, Gallagher was the only Seattle female to earn all-American honors in
multiple events, with a second-place finish in the 100-breast and a third-place finish in the 200-breast.
The Redhawks also have three other swimmers returning who earned All-American recognition in relay events. Co-captain Elise Fischbach is a very talented swimmer, who has the ability to compete and score in a variety
of events with the backstroke being her strength. She was a member of two Seattle All-American relays last season and finished fourth in two individual events and sixth in another at the national meet. Jennifer
Caldwell was a member of one all-American relay and is a strong swimmer in back and free events. Rachel DiPasquale, who came on strong late in the season last year, was also a member of one All-American relay and is becoming a strong sprint freestyle swimmer.
Although she did not earn All-American honors, this year's team co-captain Ryann Cooper will be an integral part of the Seattle lineup as she excels in
two events that Seattle lost the most depth and talent in, the breast and fly. Cooper just missed All-American honors with two fourth-place finishes in the breaststroke events at nationals last year.
Katherine Cuevas, Elizabeth Hansen and sisters Abby and Lydia Woodall are all strong swimmers that Mallery hopes to receive steady contributions from throughout the year. Cuevas swam in a number of events last season and placed in two events at nationals, including fourth in the 100-fly. Hansen is a strong freestyle swimmer, who qualified for nationals in two events. Lydia Woodall is a versatile swimmer who can earn the Redhawks points in a number of events.
Abby, the younger of the two, also brings the team some
versatility including her ability to compete in diving. She is the only diver in the history of the women's program and placed eighth at nationals last year.
"The women's team is very balanced and has the ability to make an impact at the Division II level," Mallery said. "This is a starting point in a new domain. We will continue to add to what I feel is a very strong nucleus and build from there."
Although the Redhawks are now an official member of NCAA Division II, there is not a tremendous amount of change to their schedule.
"We've got as tough of a Division II schedule as it gets, given our location. We don't have the same number of D-II schools within the proximity as we did when we were competing in the NAIA," Mallery said. "We will balance more invitationals with our dual meet competition. This will allow for a greater diversity in events and more individual racing opportunities
for the swimmers."
Swimmers will compete for bragging rights when the team opens the season Oct. 6 with the Red and White Meet, SU's annual intrasquad competition. The
following week, the Redhawks will have a tough test when archrival Simon Fraser comes to town for what is always an exciting meet. That will be the last opportunity to catch the Redhawks at home before the new year.
Seattle heads south to California the last weekend of October, where they will compete in the University of Pacific Invitational Oct. 25-26, followed by a dual meet at UC-Davis on the 27th. The Redhawks will be out for revenge as the Aggies pulled off a sweep in the Connolly Center last year.
The Redhawks travel to Central Washington University on Nov. 9 for their only meet of the month. After nearly a month off from competition, the Redhawks will have to challenging tests at the University of Washington Husky Invitational (Dec. 5-7) and an invitational at the University of Hawaii (Dec. 17). On top of that, Coach Mallery will certainly schedule in a
grueling winter training session.
Finally, the Redhawks will return to the friendly confines of the Connolly Center to take on Central Washington on Jan. 11. A trip to Simon Fraser, back to Central Washington for an invitational and a home meet against Whitworth to close the regular season will be SU's final tests before postseason competition begins.
"In the NAIA, we started at the bottom and were able to be mentored and draw from the higher competition we were facing," Mallery said. "Although we are starting from a higher point and will have some success at the national level, we are in a similar position in that we can learn from the more successful and experienced programs."
The Pacific Coast Swim Conference championships will be held Feb. 12-15 in Long Beach, Calif., where Seattle will face some of the nation's top programs at all levels. Exactly one month later, NCAA Division II nationals in Grand Forks, N.D. begin.
Although Mallery has some tough gaps to fill on both teams, his teams are centered around a strong nucleus and boast impressive incoming classes to form a compliment that should help Seattle University swimming continue to be successful at the next level.