Oct. 12, 2007
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - One thing is obvious when talking to UC Santa Barbara's head swim coach Gregg Wilson, the 32-year coach is excited about what's to come during the 2007-08 season and is prepared to guide his women's team to its third consecutive Big West Conference title this spring.
"We are very excited for a number of reasons: we came off of a very good team victory and it was a first because the women won the conference championship without the men winning," Wilson began. "And we are following that with an improved team. We lost two good seniors, but only two, and we have some freshman women that we think are going to make a huge difference."
"I think the overriding goals are winning the conference championship and getting more than two women to the NCAA's and I think we should be able to do that."
The Gaucho women will begin the season a week earlier than the men's team as they open with UCLA and Oregon State this Saturday, Oct. 13 at Campus Pool at noon. The tough schedule does not let-up when both the men and women head to Arizona State for a two-day dual with the Sun Devils on Oct. 26-27.
"We try to expose our teams to the best competition we can within reason and I think they are going to be able to hold their own," Wilson said.
Leading the Gauchos this season will be team captains and the only seniors on the team, Courtney Jenkins and Bobbie Wilson. Coach Wilson is confident that the senior leadership will be a key component to UCSB's success throughout the year.
"They planned and came in prepared. Our captains have set the foundation and groundwork for what could be a very good year. I couldn't be happier with how they have begun the year, it is the best start we have had in years."
Sprint Freestyle Last season's biggest surprise, Anne Marie May, returns for her sophomore season with the Gauchos after a breakout freshman campaign, which culminated in Big West Freshman of the Year honors and a NCAA Championship appearance. The defending Big West 50 freestyle and 100 free champion is expected to continue her rise as a collegiate swimmer.
"Last year we saw something that usually doesn't happen and we were the envy of lots of coaches and teams. For Anne Marie to burst on the scene and accomplish the things that she has, it is tough following that, it doesn't take the same amount of work, it takes more work," Wilson commented. "But she is up for it. She is extremely competitive and has a summer of training and competition behind her. She now knows the ropes and she can now prepare for all situations that may come up."
Also adding depth will be Courtney Bauer, who has entered her sophomore season in great shape. Freshman Jamie Cisar, out of San Jose, Calif. and walk-on Kelley LeBeau of Bakersfield, Calif. will also help in the sprints.
Middle Distance Freestyle Wilson believes that the Gauchos will see their biggest improvement this season in the distance and middle distance freestyle events. The 2006-07 season saw the emergence of junior Liz Wagner as a dominant presence. Wagner captured the 200 and 500 freestyle titles at the Big West Conference Championships. Recovering from some physical ailments during the off-season, Wagner will likely play a bigger factor come January.
Sophomore Nika Tayrein and the multi-talented Jessica Cruzat will be able to lend their talents to the distance events while several newcomers can contribute in anything from the 1000 free to the 100 free. Freshman Lindsay Gaudinier out of San Ramon, Calif. has been impressive in practice and also captured first in both the 1000 and 500 free events during last weekend's intrasquad meet.
Freshman Stephanie Brooks of Redwood City, Calif. also has enormous potential according to Wilson and may be the biggest surprise on this season's roster.
Freshman Sierra Palacios of Shingle Springs, Calif. and Stephanie Pierson of Thousand Oaks, Calif. have also joined the middle distance group and will help veterans Jessica Schwalb and Ashley Yamahata, who were relied heavily upon last year. Jenkins and freshman Kelsey Lewis round out the group swimming the 200 and 500 free, respectively.
Breaststroke Breaststroke is expected to be one of the Gauchos' deepest strokes this season with junior and defending Big West Conference 100 breast champion Katy Freeman returning to lead the group.
"She worked unbelievably hard over the summer and she has come back fit, determined and focus. She is super competitive and it is going to be really tough for our opponents in this event," Wilson remarked.
Freshman Sarah Nicponski from Salt Lake City, Utah will be the Gauchos "big hammer" this season. The fifth fastest high school breaststroker in the nation and a Junior National Champion, Nicponski had a great summer and went to the Olympic Trials in both the 100 and 200-meter breast events. Wilson describes her as "a very exciting person to watch swim. She is quick and fast."
"With Sarah and Katy, we are not just looking at conference and the NCAA's, we are looking at the Olympic Trials," says Wilson.
Backstroke The backstroke group will contain many of the same faces as last season, with each swimmer already well ahead of where they were at this time last season. Cruzat leads the group after finishing second in the 200 back at last season's conference championships.
Sophomores Katie Ure and Naomi Javanifard, who were each conference finalists in backstroke and butterfly, will use their experience to their advantage this season and help create a very competitive backstroke group for the Gauchos.
Bobbie Wilson and Wagner, a Senior National qualifier in the 200 back, will provide further depth in the stroke while freshman Palacios will also create another option in the backstroke line-up.
Butterfly Santa Barbara's biggest loss last season was NCAA qualifier Jen Schwalb and though she will be hard to replace, Wilson feels that the team already has someone very capable of doing just that. Junior Erin Yamamoto, a Big West finalist in both the 100 and 200 fly events last season, is expected to step-up and fill Schwalb's role.
"She is extremely capable and she had the best spring training of any of the women," Wilson said. "Erin has a great attitude; she's fit, competitive, experienced and has the intense desire to be the best we have and the best in competition."
Giving Yamamoto and the Gaucho's competition a run for their money will be freshman Brittany Borrowitz who won the 200 fly at UCSB's intrasquad meet. Borrowitz has strong credentials as a CIF Finalist and has shown early in the year that she enjoys a good race.
As mentioned before, Ure and Javanifard will contribute in both backstroke and butterfly while sophomore Niki Schrakamp and Cisar will also help out in the event.
Individual Medley Cruzat, who is capable of swimming just about any event, will probably be leading the Gauchos in the individual medley this season. Yamamoto and Jenkins will each swim the 200 IM along with freshman standout Nicponski. Freeman is also expected to be a force for the Gauchos in the IM.
Freshman Borrowitz and Lewis were each recruited and signed early with the intent of strengthening both IM events and the coaching staff is excited about the prospects for both. Rounding out the group will be Jessica Schwalb, who was impressive in the 400 IM last season.
Relays Wilson anticipates that this season will be one of the best for UCSB in terms of relays, and that is after the 2006-07 team set five new school records in relay events.
The medley relay will be dominant with May and Nicponski having already posted times that would qualify for the NCAA's. Combining the two underclassman with Yamamoto and Cruzat or even Javanifard or Ure, the medley relays should be excellent and provide UCSB with the possibility of having more than one competitive relay team. It is the coaching staff's belief that the top Gaucho medley relays should be competitive with anyone in the country.
Losing just one swimmer from the last season's record-setting and conference champion 400 and 800 free relays, the Gauchos should remain competitive this season in all three freestyle relays.