SWIMMING: From revamped to rebuilding, swimmers are ready

Josh Buckman

When Western’s swimming and diving team travels to Lexington for the Kentucky Relays Saturday, it will be the earliest the season has ever started. But that doesn’t seem to bother head coach Bill Powell.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Powell, who returns for his 34th season – more than any coach on the Hill. “We plan on taking the entire team.”

The Kentucky Relays feature a series of relay races. Although it will be an exhibition, score will be kept.

To get ready, the team held its annual intrasquad competition Saturday. The red team beat the white 233-109. Afterward, both sides felt good about its chances this year.

“The team did very well. We won races we shouldn’t have won,” sophomore Nick Bracco said. “A lot of people are doing better this year than last.”

The men’s team comes in with high expectations, heavy with seasoned veterans and several talented freshmen. Powell thinks that backstroke and sprints will be the team’s strengths. He said the team will be led by senior captain Gord Veldman, Ryan Crosby, the school record holder in the butterfly, transfer Jerrod Janes and freshman sprinter Tommy Pollock.

“We’ve been training real hard. Up to this point we’ve accomplished a lot already,” said Veldman, who represented his native Canada at the Commonwealth and Pan-Pacific games last summer. “The team will do well.”

Veldman also thinks the practicing he did to prepare him for the games will help him this season.

“I usually take the summer off, relax, but I was forced to train this summer,” he said.

One of the team’s big question marks, though, will be depth in the breast stroke. Senior Charlie Knight will be the only returning breast stroker. The Toppers will also miss sprinter David Tucker and butterfly specialist Pat Derr, two of last season’s top seniors.

Nevertheless, Powell shares the team’s optimism for the 2002-03 season.

“I just feel that this year’s team of men has shown me something that they hadn’t had last year,” he said.

On the women’s side, there’s a little more work to be done.

The defending Sun Belt Conference champions lost nine seniors from last year’s team and was dealt another blow last month when sophomore breast stroker Lori Ludwiczak was injured in a hit-and-run accident. She’ll miss the first few weeks of the season.

To put the Lady Toppers’ losses in perspective, the team scored 849.5 points at the SBC Championships. They lost 490 of those points to graduation – plus Ludwiczak. Compare that to conference runner-up New Mexico State, who lost only 50 points from last year’s team.

Now Western will lean on veteran senior co-captain Carol Brown and last season’s SBC Diver of the Year Marci Kacsir.

Powell expects the women to be strong in the breast stroke and distance freestyle. To counter the senior exodus, the team has added nine freshmen.

Powell said the rookies will have to perform quickly for his team to be successful.

“We’re going to have to get more seconds and thirds,” Powell said. “You can win every event and still lose. You need those seconds and thirds.”

Despite the losses, the Lady Toppers seem confident they can do that. They’re not ready to give up before they get started.

“I think it’s bringing us closer together,” said senior Deanne Thomas, who won the 100- and 200-yard backstroke during the intrasquad meet. “We have a lot of talented young freshmen.”

That’s a common sentiment among the squad. No one’s blind to the challenge. But they’re up to it.

“We lost a lot of seniors, which is devastating,” Kacsir said. “But we’re getting better.”

And two new coaches at Powell’s side will try to help them get there. Former Clemson head coach Bruce Marchionda takes over for Steve Crocker as an associate coach, while the diving team welcomes Charles Law.

“I’m extremely excited to be here,” said Marchionda, a three-time Master Swimming All-American. “I hope to help the team move forward in a positive fashion.”

During his eight years at Clemson, Marchionda produced 26 Atlantic Coast Conference Champions. He won ACC Coach-of-the-Year in 1997.

Law comes to Western after graduating from Nebraska. He will pursue a Master’s degree in sociology while coaching the diving team.

“I got an opportunity to coach at Western, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Law said.

Reach Josh Buckman at [email protected]