Oct. 15, 2008
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - With three meets in two days, the Tennessee women's swimming and diving team opens the season, and the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center, in a big way Thursday and Friday.
The Lady Vols welcome the University of the Cumberlands for a combined dual meet with the men's team at 11 a.m. on Thursday. Later in the day, UT hosts Louisville at 4 p.m.
On Friday, Vanderbilt and Arkansas travel to Knoxville for a Southeastern Conference double-dual meet at 2 p.m.
"Our team loves to compete, and so the first meet in any season is a reason to get excited and celebrate," Lady Vol head swimming coach Matt Kredich said. "This season in particular is really exciting because we've put in such good work so far this year in practice. It's exhilarating to add in the competitive component right now so the athletes can see some direct applications of the skills we've been training. We are looking at all three of the meets this week as one extended chance to learn some things about our events under pressure."
The Lady Vols return 16 letterwinners and add 10 talented freshmen to a squad that finished fourth in the SEC and eighth at last season's NCAA Championships. Among the 16 returnees are seven All-Americans: seniors Carly Mathes and Brittany Nauta, juniors Michele King and Jamie Saffer, and sophomores Aleksa Akerfelds, Morgan Farrell and Tricia Weaner.
Among the top freshmen are Jenny Connolly and Samara Gelb, who each competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the summer. At the Orange and White inter-squad exhibition meet on Oct. 10, Connolly captured three individual events, while Gelb earned first-place twice. Additionally, freshman diver Jodie McGroarty placed runner-up at the Great Britain Olympic Diving Trials and won both diving events at the Orange and White meet.
Also swimming against the country's best at the U.S. Olympic Trials were Mathes, King, Saffer, Akerfelds, Farrell and Weaner.
The season-opening dual against the University of the Cumberlands pits the Lady Vols against one of the NAIA's top programs in a shortened swimming-only meet. The Patriots feature a pair of NAIA All-Americans (Meredith Dement and Alex Robertson) and finished fourth at the 2008 NAIA National Championships.
"Cumberlands is a very good NAIA team, and we'll swim some shorter events for some sprint practice," Kredich said. "I expect a good meet from them."
Following the Cumberlands meet, UT faces Louisville at 4 p.m. The Lady Vols opened the season at Louisville in 2007 and left with a 207-93 victory. The Big Orange is 6-0 all-time versus the Cardinals. Louisville top returner is Leslie VanWinkle, an All-American in the 400 IM in 2008.
"Louisville has several NCAA caliber athletes and I expect them to give us a very good meet," Kredich said. "We've beaten them by deceptively large scores in the past couple of years, but we've won some close races in those meets and I expect them to be even better this year."
Friday's tri-meet welcomes two up-and-coming SEC teams, Arkansas and Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks placed seventh in the SEC last season and return three All-Americans (Katie Kastes, Stephanie Carr and Madison Palmer.
The Commodores' swimming and diving program is in just its third year since being restarted, but has shown rapid improvement. Last weekend, Vanderbilt posted its first dual-meet wins since starting up again in 2006. The Commodores defeated Centre College 127-106 and Rhodes College 176-43 on Oct. 11. VU opened the season with a 182-95 loss to Alabama on Sept. 27.
"One of our goals on Friday is to improve from what we do on Thursday," Kredich said. "I think we'll have some specific things to work on heading into that meet in terms of race strategy, intensity, and preparation. We are likely to have some people swimming events that are five to 10 minutes apart, and our athletes expect to excel no matter what.
"Coach Jeremy Organ at Vanderbilt literally started that program from scratch two years ago and they've now got some really solid SEC swimmers on their team. Coaches Jeff Poppell and Todd Mann have created a really powerful culture in just two years at Arkansas and they are clearly a top-20 NCAA team in the making. I expect all three teams to be relentless in the way we race, and the bottom line is we're going to have some great competition on Friday."
The three meets also will serve as the first competitive dual meets at the brand new state-of-the-art Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center. The AJIAC hosted the U.S Olympic Diving Selection camp in the summer, but these will be the first regular season meets. The facility is highlighted by an eight-lane 50-meter by 25-yard competition pool. A separate competition diving well features five platforms with heights varying from one to ten meters. Other amenities include a permanent seating for 1,800 spectators in addition to a spacious deck with room for 2,000 more visitors. Additionally, the AJIAC includes an elevated timing booth, press box and a three-screen scoreboard.
"I'm especially excited about the meets since we will be competing for the first time in the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center," UT head diving coach Dave Parrington said. "After training hard for the last eight weeks, our divers are biting at the bit to compete against somebody other than themselves. I'm looking forward to seeing how our divers will perform in this environment."