CHAPEL HILL, NC, October 16. THE 2002-03 NCAA Division 1 swim season kicks off here today with women's and men's dual meets between Coach Frank
Comfort's North Carolina Tar Heels and Coach Jack Bauerle's Georgia Bulldogs.
The meet will be held in UNC's Koury Natatorium, site of the '89 United States Swimming Spring Nationals.
Comfort's Heels are treble-defending Atlantic Coast Conference champions and are poised to make it four in-a-row the third weekend of next February at — you guessed it — their home pool!
Georgia's women have defeated UNC 11 of their 12 meetings, including the last 10 straight. The Bulldog men hold an 11-9 advantage.
Carolina's women will be led by junior Jessie Perrequet, ACC Swimmer of the Year last season, who's an excellent middle-distance freestyler; and sprinter-backstroker Christy Watkins, defending ACC 50 free champ who has prs of 22.45, 49.71 and 53.92 (100 back).
Another leaiing 'Heel is flyer Molly Freedman, a 1:57+ 200 fly specialist who can also score in the 500 free or 200 IM as well as the 100 fly or possibly 400 IM.
UNC's men will be led by last season's MVS (Most Valuable Swimmer) Sean Quinn, a senior breaststroke specialist who was runner-up in the consols of the 200 at NCAAs.
Georgia, which saw its three-year title-streak come a cropper to Marsh's Lady Tigers last season (in their home pool no less!), lost big poiints via the departure of seniors Stefanie Williams and Ashley Roby. The former was runner-up in the 100-200 frees at NCAAs, fourth in the 50 and led off the 'Dogs' victorious 200-400 free relays. Roby was a finalist in both breaststrokes and the 200 IM.
However, weep not for the wily "old" Bauerle, dean of SEC swim coaches. He had an excellent recruiting season and brought home (among others) South African breaststroke star Sara Poewe, who's been 1:07+2:25+ for 100-200 meters and is absolutely world-class. If she can adapt to swimming in a 25-yard pool she could well give Stanford's Tara Kirk (defending NCAA 100-200 breast champ/American-NCAA record-holder in both) plus Arizona State's Hungarian import, Agnes Kovacs (defending World and Olympic 200 breast champ), all they can handle — and more — come NCAAs next March at (where else?) the defending champ's home pool.
Poewe was rumored to be headed for Auburn inasmuch as she's good friend with current Tiger star (and Commonwealth Games 200 IM champ) Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe, South Africa's closest neighbor to the north. However, Bauerle must have convinced her that
"just like in 1493 BC, "Athens is the place to be" and so she'll be wearing red and black for the next four years.
The 'Dogs also recruited the nation's top prep backstroker (Lauren Gettel from Texas' Plano High) and — lest we forget — the nation's best prep
sprint flyer in Rosary (Illinois) High's Mary Descenza, who went a not-too-shabby 2:09+ 200 fly this past summer and has been 53.0 for the 100
Add in sophomore medleyist Katie Yevak; NCAA 500 free consols champ Julie Hardt (who's time was faster than the winner's) plus defending NCAA 50-100 free champ Maritza ("Ritzy") Correia and its easy to see why Bauerle is thinking about another ring come March. Correia set American/NCAA records in the 50-100 frees en route to her initial NCAA individual wins last spring at the Texas Swimming Center and thus became the first black female swimmer ever to win a national collegiate title.
However, her 100 free record only lasted about 30 minutes as Cal's Natalie Coughlin led off the Golden Bears' 400 free relay in 47.47, breaking Ritzy's
(Coughlin has swum — and won in American/NCAA record-time) the 100-200 back and 100 fly her freshman and sophomore seasons at Berkeley, but who knows what she'll opt for come March in Auburn? Maybe even the 500-1650 frees and 400 IM just for a "diversion.")
On the men's side, Georgia features sophomore Robert Margalis, a member of Uncle Sam's World Championship team last year, who was a finliast in three events at last season's NCAAs. After joining the 'Dogs at mid-year, Margalis was fourth in the 500 free, eighth in the 1650 and runner-up to USC's Erik Vendt in the 400 IM.
Vendt swam the second-fastest 400 IM of all-time this summer while chasing Michael Phelps to the world record at the U.S. Nationals in Ft. Lauderdale, and he's back for his senior season at Troy. His winning time at NCAAs was 3:40.65, third on the all-time performers'-performances list. Margalis' 3:41.42 ranks him sixth all-time (performances) and fifth among performers.
The American/NCAA record is 3:38.18 by Michigan's Tom Dolan from the '95 NCAAs at Indianapolis. If these two are on next March at Austin (site of the '03 NCAA Championships) Dolan's long-standing mark may well fall to either and/or both swimmers.
Georgia also has an excellent breaststroker in Kyle Salyards, who swam on the U.S. Pan-Pac team this summer in Yokmohama and was third (200) and fifth
(100) at NCAAs. However, his main competitors in both races (Stanford's Michael Bruce) and Texas' Brendan Hansen, defending World 200 champ and also double-defending NCAA 100-200 champ, both return too.
The countdown to Athens has begun and American collegiate swimmers will be a major factor in the composition of the '04 U.S. Olympic swim team.
– Bill Bell