NCAA Preview: Look for Some Major Clashes This Weekend

LOS ANGELES, November 1. FROM Athens to Auburn, from Austin to Gainesville, the waters of the nation's fastest pools will roil to a boil this weekend as the collegiate swimming season kicks into high gear with several major early-season dual meets and invitationals on tap.

Starting down Georgia way, Coach Jack Bauerle's Lady Bulldogs — currently ranked No. 2 nationally in the initial College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) poll, host Coach Teri McKeever's Cal Bears, who last weekend finished runners-up to Southern Methodist at the Ponies' invitational in Dallas.

On Saturday, Cal travels to Clemson where it'll swim Coach Chris Ip's Lady Tigers. Ip, of course, has been coach at Indian River Community College in Ft. Pierce, Fl. prior to this season, guiding IRCC to the National Junior College Athletic Assn. women's and men's swimming and diving titles each of the last 13 years — while developing innumerable All-Americas and collegiate swim stars.

Now he's taken on the formidable task of rebuilding the Tiger program. However, if his success at IRCC is any indication of his abilities, then the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference is in for a "whole lotta shakin'" that soon will be going on.

Just to the west of Clemson lies the sovereign state of Auburn (er, Alabama!) and Coach David Marsh's top-ranked and defending NCAA Division 1 champ Lady Tigers.

Led by the redoubtable Maggie Bowen, American/NCAA record-holder in the 200 IM and double-defending champ in that race, plus Commonwealth Games 200 IM gold medalist Kirsty Coventry — who competes for Zimbabwe and won her nation's first international gold in swimming last summer — Auburn is hosting an invitational of its own.

The Tiger men, ranked No. 2 nationally behind treble-defending NCAA champ Texas, won't be around to lend support as they'll be in Arizona, swimming dual meets against Pac-10 powers Arizona, Arizona State, the Mexican national team and Wisconsin in a pair of duals in the desert.

In the great state of Texas, where Eddie Reese's stars are all bigger than bright, the Longhorn men will face Mark Schubert's Trojans and Coach Mel Nash's Texas A&M Aggies in a two-day double dual meet today and tomorrow. The Longhorn women, perennial Southwest Conference (pardon, Big 12) champs, face Stanford's Cardinal, ranked third nationally.

In Gainesville, Florida's undefeated men's team, already easy winners over Louisiana State and Penn State, host Big 10 visitor Michigan in a dual meet at the O'Connell Center Natatorium. Michigan is the only Big 10 school to hold a winning edge over the Gators (3-2) as Florida is 8-3 overall in meets against the conference that has the most NCAA D1 swim championships.

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Georgia's Lady 'Dawgs, ranked No. 2 and NCAA champs three year' running from 1999 through last year, have a strong squad that has looked sharp in early-season wins over North Carolina and Kentucky.

Top 'Dawg is senior sprinter Maritza Correia, American record-holder in the 50 free and No. 2 all-time in the 100. Georgia had a great recruiting year and brought in (among others) prep backstroke star Lauren Gettel from Texas, breaststroker Sara Poewe from South Africa and sprinter-flyer Mary Descenza from the Academy Bullets club team in Illinois.

But Bauerle's "secret" weapon may be Samantha Arsenault, an outstanding middle-distance swimmer who led off the United States' gold medal-winning 800 free relay at the Olympics in Sydney.

Arsenault then enrolled at Michigan and, in really her only major meet before getting hurt late that fall, went a 1:47+ 200 free and 4:42.9 500 at the Longhorn Invitational in early December. Injuries have curtailed her performance since but if she's healthy she could be a triple event scorer and triple event finalist at NCAAs and perhaps more than overcome the loss of now-graduated Stefanie Williams.

Cal is Cal, with some girl named Coughlin providing the Golden Bears' spark. Berkeley also has an excellent breaststroker in Olympian Staciana Stitts, a talented distance specialist in freshman Ashley Chandler, veteran sprinter Danielle Becks and promising froshwomen backstroker Helen Silver and individual medley specialist Natalie Griffiths.

The Bears are ranked fifth in the CSCAA poll but have lost to the 'Dawgs both last season at home and in '00 at Georgia. Will the third time be the charm? Stay tuned.

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Coach Greg Troy's Florida Gators are paced by defending NCAA 200 free champ Adam Sioui, who defeated SC's '01 champ and Sydney Olympian Klete Keller to win the title last March at Athens.

A pair of Brazilians also figure prominently in Florida's early-season success, with sprinter Carlos Jayme having already blasted to nation-leading 20.11-44.13 clockings, and countryman Gabe Mangabeira going 49.98-1:47.36 for the 100-200 backstrokes.

Mix in breaststroker Ian Chadsey (2:00.61 200) plus distance specialist Ryan Lochte and it's easy to see why Troy is one happy camper.

Coach Jon Urbancek's Michigan Wolverines last won NCAAs seven years ago when a certain triple Olympic gold-medalist named Dolan — and a Brazilian sprinter named Borges who is the only man ever to win the NCAA 100 four years' running — were the team's mainstays.

This year the Wolverines, headed by Michigan Athlete of the Year and Big 10 Swimmer of the Year Dan Ketchum, have a team that's poised to unseat double-defending conference champ Minnesota.

Ketchum was runner-up at NCAAs in the 200 free, fifth in the 500 and 11th in the mile. The Wolverines also have a strong distance specialist in sophomore Brendan Nelligan, fifth at NCAAs in the 1650 free and runner-up in the 500 consol finals. Breaststroker Jeff Hopwood was also a finalist in the 200 at Athens, so Michigan could put a substantial dent in the Gators' formidable armor, all things considered.

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Texas is Texas, and the addition of world champion/ world 200 back record-holder, Aaron Peirsol, only strengthens the Longhorns' already power-packed lineup.

Last season Texas lost '01 NCAA Swimmer of the Year Nate Dusing to graduation and didn't miss a beat. This year, with essentially the same swimming lineup returning (the 'Horns did, however, lose divers Troy and Justin Dumais), Texas is the overwhelming choice to four-peat, particularly in view of the fact that NCAAs will be held in their home pool, the Jamail Texas Swimming Center the last weekend of next March.

Reese is the only coach to four-peat since USC's now-retired Peter Daland did the deed at Troy from '74 through '77, having done so from '88 through '91. And not so coincidentally, when Reese won a decade-plus ago to make it four in-a-row, the meet was held at — you guessed it — Texas.

'Course, it helps the 'Horns' cause immeasurably this year that they have a wealth of talent other than Peirsol, including double-defending NCAA breaststroke champ Brendan Hansen, bidding to become the first swimmer ever to win the 100-200 four-consecutive years; flyer Ian Crocker, American/NCAA record-holder in the 100 who's on course to tie Pablo Morales' record of four straight titles; Chris Kemp, a strong freestyler who was an NCAA finalist in the 500 free, won the 200 free consols and also scored in the 100 free; soph Rainer Kendrick, Big 12 Swimmer of the Year as a freshman last season, who was third at NCAAs (200 fly) and third in the consols of the 200 IM.

Texas won over Stanford by more than 100 points, primarily on the strength of its divers (the Cardinal outscored the 'Horns in the pool by nearly a like amount). With both Dumais lost to graduation, Texas has a lot of points to make up but Peirsol can help that problem big-time.

SC also lost a pair of key swimmers in Keller plus Hungarian Tamas Kerekjarto. Keller, NCAA 500 free champ for the second-consecutive year, opted to leave to train in Michigan with Urbancek (although, having turned pro, he's ineligible to swim for the Wolverines). Hungarian star Kerekjarto — third in the 200 IM, fifth in the 400 — departs due to graduation.

SC will be counting on flyer Jeff Lee, runner-up in the 200 fly and fifth in the 100. In keeping with Schubert's penchant for recruiting international
stars, the Trojans will feature a Tunisian in their line-up this season. He is Ous Mellouli, who's trained in France the last few seasons, and has been 2:04+/4:20+ long course and is African record-holder in the medleys.

While Hungarian Kerekjarto has departed, his countryman, Mihaly Flaskay, has joined the Trojan lineup too. And why not? A Romanian who swims for Alabama is defending NCAA 200 fly champ and Cal has more non-Americans than the United Nations. Oh, and the defending NCAA 200 back champ is an Austrian who swims for Stanford.

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The Texas women will count heavily on veteran freestylers Tanica Jamison and Erin Phenix, along with sophomore IMer Alisa Schuknecht and froshwomen Jennifer Robbins (sprint freestyle-fly), Meaghan Peart (leading independent-school sprinter) and soph Sarah Wanezak.

Stanford's women, which had perhaps the best recruiting year of all — bringing in all-world IMers-breaststrokers Kristen Caverly and Laura Davis, flyer Dana Kirk and breaststroker-IMer Carly Geehr, among others — lost superstar Shelly Ripple to graduation, and all she did was win the NCAA 200 fly in collegiate-record time and push Bowen to the American/NCAA record in the 200 IM. Stanford also lost distance ace Jessica Foschi to graduation so the Cardinal has some big suits to fill (if you'll pardon the pun).

Stanford returns junior Tara Kirk, Dana's big sister and American/NCAA record-holder in both breaststrokes; sprinter-flyer Lacey Boutwell; medley specialist Tami Ransom, national prep record-holder in the 200; and diver Erica Sorgi, a potential Olympian. Quick also has high hopes for sophomore breaststroker Kirsten Gilbert.

Losing Ripple not only hurts the Cardinal in terms of points lost (individual and relay) but also her leadership abilities and her indominable spirit and will-to-win will be sorely missed. If some of the freshmen can step up to the plate and disprove the old adage that rookies should be "seen but not heard," Stanford can make things quite interesting for Georgia, Florida, not to mention the defending national champs at NCAAs.

SC's women will be led by veterans Jana Krohn (butterflys) and Michala Kwasny (IMs). Two other Women of Troy who could be instrumental in leading SC into a high finish at NCAAs are sophomores Kaitlin Sandeno and British Olympian Joanne Fargus.

Sandeno, out much of last year with an injured back, was a Sydney Olympian and multi-event finalist. An outstanding distance freestyler-200 flyer-400 IMer, Sandeno has been 4:39+/15:49.2 for the 500-1650 frees, 1:56.9 (200 fly) and 4:09.5 (400 IM) — all times that would make her a finalist at NCAAs. These swims were also all done when she was not fully tapered, shaved and rested so — to paraphrase Gertrude Stein — "there is more there there."

"Fargus was sixth at NCAAs in the 100 back, seventh in the 200…not bad for just having joined SC at mid-season and having never swum yards before last February. She also won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in the 200 back (2:11.60).

Schubert was women's coach at Texas when the 'Horns won their last two NCAA Championships ('90-'91) and he's still one of only two coaches (Quick is the other) who's won NCAAs at two different schools.

However, with three rings, Schubert has a ways to go before he equals Quick's 12 (5 at Texas from '84-'88, then the following season at The Farm and again from '92-'94 and '96-'98 in Palo Alto).

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Auburn's men's team lost medleyist Kevin Clements (third, 400) but scored a major recruiting coup by inking George Bovell, a native of Trinidad who's been training at Bolles the last several years. He was the surprise of last year's World Championships, finaling in the 200 IM and ranking among the Top 10 in the world at season's end.

If Bovell can withstand the pressures of the NCAA Championships as well as he did the World Championships, Auburn will have a bluer-than-blue-chipper blue-chip.

Add in breaststroker Pat Calhoun, back for his final crack at Hansen; sprinter Ryan Wochomurko, backstroker Ray Hunt, super frosh IMer Eric Shanteau, breaststroker Mark Gangloff plus flyer Andy Haidinyak and it's not hard to see where the Tigers' No. 2 national-ranking comes from.

Arizona will be hurt by the loss of NCAA 50 free champ Roland Schoeman to graduation but Mexican Olympian Juan Veloz, a strong 200 flyer, returns, as does Swede Eric laFleur.

Arizona State features sprinter Nick Brunelli (19.8/43.8).

— Bill Bell