October 31, 2008

2008-09 Season Preview: Gauchos Striving to Excel at National Level

Oct. 31, 2008

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Last season was a banner year for the UC Santa Barbara women's swimming team. UCSB captured its third-consecutive - and 12th overall - Big West Conference title and sent five swimmers to the NCAA Championships, taking 25th at the meet. And that is just scratching the surface in terms of the Gauchos' accomplishments.

This year, the Gauchos and their coaching staff hope to build upon their program's success last season and not only find their way to the national platform in the spring, but to outshine their previous showing.

"Indelibly etched in their minds, and our primary focus of the season, from the first day on, has been NCAA Championships," head coach Gregg Wilson said. "Our expectations are to take more than five women and to score more than 25 points and place higher than 25th place."

The Gauchos return all five of their 2008 NCAA qualifiers this season, including reigning Big West Female Swimmer of the Year, Anne Marie May, who made a splash nationally when she took third-place at NCAA's in the 50 freestyle with a school-record time of 22.00.

Returning for her senior year is Katy Freeman, who not only captured three Big West titles in 2008, but also had an outstanding summer in which she took 10th at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 200-meter breast and then qualified for the 2009 U.S. Swimming World University Games roster in both breaststroke events.

Relays
The strength of the team this season will likely be in the relay events. Last year, the women's 200 and 400 medley relay teams consisting of Naomi Javanifard, Sara Nicponski, Erin Yamamoto and May set new school records and also earned Honorable Mention All-American honors at the NCAA Championships.

"Our strength will definitely be our medley relay," Wilson said. "It is great to have someone like Anne Marie anchoring it, but there is more to them than just Anne Marie. The 200 and 400 medley relays both have a chance to be in the top-eight at the NCAA Championships. That would turn a lot of heads. We will be going in with the same kids, but now they have been to NCAA Championships and Olympic Trials and they are all swimming at a different level (than last season)."

In addition to making a repeat trip to the NCAA's with the medley relays, Wilson also hopes that the Gaucho freestyle relays will also qualify this season. Both the 200 free relay (consisting of Courtney Bauer, Nadia Dwidar, Javanifard and May) and the 400 free relay (Bauer, Dwidar, Yamamoto and May) set school records in 2008, posting a time of 1:31.46 in the 100 and a mark of 3:20.56 in the 200.

Breaststroke
As far as individual events go, the Gauchos will be truly loaded in the breaststroke events. Freeman is entering her senior season at the top of her game. After taking the 100 and 200 breast titles at the Big West Championships. She took 11th in the 200 breast at NCAA's earning Honorable Mention All-American accolades. She topped that performance with her swims at the Olympic Trials and then at the U.S. Open, where she took third in the 200-meter breast.

Nicponski returns for her sophomore season after also competing at the NCAA's, Olympic Trials and the U.S. Open with Freeman and will be looking to build upon a rookie season that culminated with Big West Freshman of the Year honors.

Rounding out the group will be junior Carri Cook, who is training at the top of her game according to Wilson.

Butterfly/Backstroke
Returning to lead a strong butterfly group will be Erin Yamamoto, Naomi Javanifard and Katie Ure, all Olympic Trials qualifiers in the 100 fly. Prior to swimming at the OT, Yamamoto finished in the top-50 in both the 100 fly (46th) and the 200 fly (35th) during her first NCAA Championship appearance.

Ure and Javanifard will also both be swimming plenty of backstroke. Javanifard placed 41st at NCAA's in the 100 back and is swimming at a "different level" according to Wilson.

Ure will most likely compete in the 200 back along with senior Jessica Cruzat, who is looking to end her career at UCSB with a bang.

Freestyle
When you talk about UCSB's freestyle swimmers the conversation must begin with Anne Marie May. With her third-place finish at NCAA's and a summer of national experience under her belt, May is expected to continue to stand out in the 50 and 100 freestyle - events that she currently owns the UCSB and Big West records in.

The Gauchos are expected to take a huge step forward in the distance events with the addition of four newcomers that will add some much needed depth: Astrid Amsallem, Meagan Brown, Katie Reeves and Alex Hilber.

"They have already made a significant impact daily in the pool," Wilson said. "They will be tested this fall and we will see how they develop. The level of training for distance freestyle is higher than it ever has been as a group."

Sophomore Kelsey Lewis also returns to the distance group and is - in October - just off of her lifetime best times and in the best shape of her life, according to Wilson.

Preseason Predictions
In the Big West Conference's preseason coaches' poll, the Gauchos were the unanimous pick to repeat as the conference champions in the spring. The women have won the last three Big West titles and captured last season's championship with 926 points, posting a 271 point margin over runners-up UC Irvine.

On the national level, the women were ranked 31st 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 the strength and experience of the returning swimmers combined with the added depth of several newcomers, the UCSB women's swim team will begin its journey toward it fourth-consecutive Big West title and a repeat trip to the NCAA Championships when they head to Cal State Northridge for the first dual meet of the season on Saturday, Nov. 1.

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