Oct. 31, 2008
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The defending Big West Conference Champion UC Santa Barbara men's swimming team enters the 2008-09 season with its collective eyes focused on one event: the 2009 NCAA Division I Championships being held at Texas A&M beginning on March 26, 2009. With seven Olympic Trials qualifiers returning to lead a bevy of newcomers, the mission is anything but impossible.
"As we go to the NCAA's, the conference is one of our steps, one of our intermediary goals," head coach Gregg Wilson said. "Last year, right from the get-go, I didn't mention the NCAA's."
Though a couple Gaucho men just missed the mark on qualifying for the 2008 NCAA Championships, the 2007-08 men's season was nothing to shake a stick at. The Gauchos captured their 27th Big West Conference title, defeating runner-up UC Davis by 182 points. UCSB won eight events at the championships and set three new school records in the 200 free relay and the 200 and 400 medley relays.
Disappointed by missing the NCAA's, the men's team went to work in the spring and had a successful summer as six Gauchos attended the U.S. Olympic Trials and one swam at the Canadian trials. An experience that according to Wilson has carried momentum into this upcoming season.
"We keep asking them, when you walk on the deck, are you doing something to get to the NCAA's?" Wilson said. "And if not, are you doing something to push the person next to you to get there?"
The sprint freestyle events will once again be a strong point for the Gauchos this season as Bradley Matsumoto, the defending Big West Champion and an Olympic Trials qualifier in the 50 and 100, returns for his senior season. According to Wilson, "Bradley just keeps going faster every year. He is a very talented sprinter."
Scott Vogelgesang, who also competed in the 100 free at OT, will continue to be an asset for UCSB in the free events and relays. As will Joe Wood, who is entering his senior season far ahead of where he left off last spring, according to Wilson.
With the loss of graduated senior Brooks Felton, who captured the conference titles in the 500 and 1000 free last season, the role of the Gauchos' top distance freestyler is up for grabs. Fighting for the role is junior Brett Chamberlain.
"Brett is coming off of a good summer and is just so mentally and emotionally prepared for this year," Wilson said. "He is taking a little bit of charge in the distance group."
But with the distance events wide open, there is a chance that senior Spencer Holbrook or freshmen Ethan Bradley (Covina, Calif./Charter Oaks HS) and Jimmy Gaston (Newton, Conn./The Bolles School) could fill Felton's shoes.
Rounding out a deep distance group is sophomore Chris Day, who had a strong fall last year, but struggled during the spring due to a battle with mono. Despite the illness Day still managed to post a best time in the 1000 free at the conference championships.
"I think our IM events are going to be really good," Wilson said. "We have some freshman walk-ons that are already showing us some really good stuff."
Those freshmen are Ryan Garcia (San Jose, Calif./Bellarmine Prep), Evan Simoni (San Diego, Calif./San Diego HS) and Cody Miller (Cardiff, Calif./Fallbrook HS) who will be providing back up for senior team captain Chris Good, who finished 23rd at the Olympic Trials in the 400 IM and has maintained his momentum during fall practices.
Good will also lead the backstroke group, as he attempts to defend his Big West title in the 200 backstroke this spring. Along with him will be fellow team captain, Brock Roverud, who posted the third best time on the team in the 200 back in 2008 and Garcia.
In the butterfly events, the Gauchos return two swimmers that swam at Olympic Trials: Chris Wiggin and Danny McClary. Both of the juniors have returned to the pool in top form, and with classmate Jon Kraetcsh, have the makings of a dominant fly group.
Freshman Josh Cannon (Walnut Creek, Calif.) rounds out the list of butterflyers and according to Wilson, "could surprise us. He is a very good athlete."
After competing for the Canadian National Team over the summer, Jeff Sudbury returns for his senior season. Also a force in freestyle events, Sudbury enters 2008-09 as the defending BWC title-holder in the 100 breast. In addition to Sudbury, sophomore Adam Gonzales and junior Travis Jepson will form a solid trio in the 100 breaststroke.
Jepson, who competed at Olympic Trials, will once again fill the role as the Gauchos' No. 1 200 breast swimmer this season.
"Travis had a great summer and hasn't missed a beat and he will have another really, really good year," Wilson said.
After capturing four relay titles at the Big West Championships last season, the Gauchos hope that their relays this year will not only mow-down the conference competition, but also qualify for the NCAA Championships. Wilson thinks his freestyle relays can do just that.
"Our goal is the NCAA's. We need to get back in there. I honestly believe Bradley (Matsumoto) can make it and the 4x50 and 4x100 free relays can make it," Wilson said.
With three of last year's four relay members returning for both the 200 (Vogelgesang, Sudbury and Matsumoto) and 400 (Matsumoto, Sudbury and Morris) free relays, that goal is very possible.
In the Big West preseason coaches' poll, the Gauchos were the unanimous pick to repeat as the conference champions in the spring. The men have won five of the last nine conference titles and 27 total.
On the national level, the men were ranked 24th in the College Swimming Coaches Association of America dual meet rankings. An honor that cannot be overlooked considering the teams ranked above the Gauchos all have diving, which UCSB lacks.
"All of the top-20 that were ranked have diving. When we go into dual meets its like not being able to shoot free-throws or having a relief pitcher," Wilson said.
With a great blend of veterans and freshman, the UCSB men's swim team will begin its journey toward its 28th Big West title and a trip to the NCAA Championships when they head to Cal State Northridge for the first dual meet of the season on Saturday, Nov. 1.