Oct. 13, 2008
The Indiana men’s swimming team is back on the move, inching closer to the national prominence the program enjoyed in the 1970s. But while last year’s 10th-place finish at the NCAA Championships was a step in the right direction, the 2008-09 squad has some big shoes to fill.
Gone are NCAA backstroke champion Ben Hesen, as well as NCAA point scorers Todd Patrick, John Kevin Koehler, Pat Penoyar and Ronnie Hehn. Relay competitors Matt Lenton and Ante Zoricic are the only returning swimmers from that NCAA group, but Looze is confident the youngsters are ready to step in.
“This may be the youngest team I have ever had,” said head coach Ray Looze, who is entering his seventh season at Indiana . “A lot of the guys we are going to be counting on are freshmen and sophomores. It is going to be critical that our senior class and captains do a good job of setting the tone.
“We may only be picked fourth or fifth in the league based on what you see on paper, but the talent is there. I really like the makeup of this team. They are versatile and it is a matter of achieving their potential at the end of the year.”
In a pleasant change for IU, Indiana should run three deep in the sprint events with Bryan Chovanec, Lenton and Zoricic. Chovanec missed last season but posted top-five finishes in the 50 and 100 free during the dual meet season as a freshman. Lenton was seventh in the 50 free at the Big Ten meet last year, and Zoricic swam anchor on the 200 free relay which finished fifth and the 400 free relay which was 11th at the NCAA Championships.
“I think we go three-deep pretty well in the 50 with Bryan, Matt and Ante,” Looze said.
Junior Mark Wetzel is back and looking to move into scoring position at the Big Tens, while sophomore Titus Knight is a threat to score in the 100 through 500 free. Sophomore Bart Ginocchio could make his way into the scoring, and sophomore Kurt Bassett may branch out from his backstroke specialty and swim the 500 free.
Freshman Jim Barbiere should contribute immediately in the 500 free, along with freshman Eric Ress, senior Steffan Troxel and freshman Ryan Hinshaw.
“I think the 500 free could be really good for us,” Looze said. “Although we lost a lot from last year, we have the guys that can step in and replace their points. If they can do it as freshmen or sophomores, that would be real special to see.”
The Hoosiers were hit hard in the mile with the loss of Koehler and Alex Brunfeldt, but Troxel and Ginocchio could step in, along with Hinshaw.
“This will be thin for us,” Looze said. “Out of that group, Steffan is the only one that has ever scored. It will be interesting to see what those guys are able to do for us in that event.”
Aaron Opell is the top returning breaststroker for the Hoosiers. Opell should be able to move into scoring position at Big Tens this year and will be joined by senior captain Justin Peterfish and senior Heath Tameris.
“Aaron had a very good summer in both the 100 and 200 breast,” Looze said. “I can see Justin and Heath also playing big roles, along with A.J. Miller.”
Sophomore Tyler Lemert will be relied upon more heavily this season with a year of experience under his belt.
“There is a lot of talent here,” Looze said. “They just have to step up and do something for us.”
Young is the best word to describe the group of Indiana butterfliers. Sophomore Cody Weik scored in the 200 fly at last year’s Big Ten Championships, and Miller just missed out on the points in the 100 fly. Juniors Tim Blue and Christopher Head will be looked upon to step up into those scoring positions, while Lenton will also be a contributor here.
Freshmen Tyler Shedron and Tony Mattar have the opportunity to make some noise in this event, as the race for the spots is wide open. Sophomores Matthew O’Brien, Doug Spraul and Bader Al-Muhana showed improvement over the summer and could help push this group to a bigger points haul at the Big Ten meet.
“We could score four or five in the 100 fly,” Looze said.
Indiana loses the defending NCAA champion in this event, but the cupboard is not bare. Bassett scored in both the 100 and 200 back last year and won the 200 at the FINA World Junior Championships over the summer.
Spraul was just out of scoring range in both events at Big Tens last year and could make the step up. Zoricic scored in the 100 back as a freshman, while Barbiere and Ress could make some noise.
“I think we will be very strong,” Looze said. “Although we graduated the top backstroker in the NCAA last year, collectively these guys might be able to score more points. I think we will continue our strong backstroke tradition.”
Opell set a new school record in the 400-meter individual medley this summer at the U.S. Olympic Trials and should improve upon his ninth-place finish at last year’s Big Ten Championships. Weik narrowly missed out on scoring in the 200 IM last season, while Miller was 11th in the event.
Ress and Bassett could also take part in the IMs, while sophomore Kevin Happ was just out of scoring range in the 400 as a freshman and could make that move up this season.
It will be a new look for the medley relays with freestyler Lenton the only returnee from last season. Zoricic, Bassett, Lemert and Opell will all compete for those open spots.
“Hopefully we can get those medley relays to NCAAs,” Looze said. “If we can do that with a completely new group, it will show a lot about our consistency. Those guys just need to seize the opportunity.”
The freestyle relays should be improved this season with several options for Looze to choose from. Zoricic, Lenton and Chovanec will lead the 200 free relay, with the fourth spot still wide open for both the 200 and 400 free.
“Michigan is the class of the league with the experience they return, but after that it will be a scramble,” Looze said. “Ohio State will be good, along with Minnesota, Purdue and the Hoosiers mixed in there. If we swim well, we can be competitive with any one of those teams.”Overall
“This team is a book that is unread at this point,” Looze said. “We are going to turn each page everyday and hopefully it will be a book that you can’t put down. It is going to be fun to develop these young guys. I am very excited and optimistic about the season.”
The Indiana men’s diving squad cannot claim lack of experience or unfamiliarity with success as it heads into the 2008-09 season. Head coach Dr. Jeff Huber and assistant coach Todd Waikel return four letterwinners from last year’s team which produced two Big Ten titles and five All-America honors. Indiana also took home the men’s team title at the U.S. Outdoor Nationals this past July.
But even with that success, there are some huge holes to fill. Both Taylor Roberts and David Legler have graduated from the program, with Roberts having one of his best-ever seasons as a senior, earning All-America honors on both the one-meter and three-meter.
“We lost some leadership with Taylor Roberts and David Legler,” Huber said. “They were probably two of our best captains we’ve had in a long time. But I think our seniors and juniors will take it upon themselves to set a good example both in the classroom and the pool.”
Taking the leadership reigns will be senior Will Bohonyi. Bohonyi has finished seventh on the platform at each of the last two Big Ten Championships, but Huber and Waikel believe that is the height were he is poised to have the most success in 2008-09.
“We will really try and focus on the platform with Will this year,” Huber said. “He seems to be coming around in the event and we want to emphasize that more throughout the year.”
The only other returning upperclassman on the squad is junior David Legler. Legler saw limited action in his sophomore campaign as he battled various injuries but had a solid summer and is ready to contribute.
“David did a nice job of qualifying on the one-meter at senior nationals this year,” Huber said. “Hopefully he can stay healthy and contribute throughout the season.”
Back after a phenomenal freshman season is Landon Marzullo. Marzullo took the conference by storm, capturing league titles on the one-meter and three-meter, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Big Ten Diver of the Year honors. He went on to finish fourth on the one-meter, 11th on the three-meter and 13th on the platform at the NCAA Championships.
“Landon is probably our top returning diver,” Huber said. “But even though he was Big Ten champion, we really want to see him make some major changes. There is no doubt in my mind he can be the best collegiate diver in the country. One of our goals is to map out a four-year plan to get on that 2012 Olympic team. He is that good on every level.”
Kris Hill closed out his freshman year strong in 2007-08 with a fourth-place finish on the three-meter at the Big Ten Championships, putting up a career-best score of 408.15. It will be that kind of effort that guides him to the next level in his sophomore season.
Four newcomers dot the Indiana roster, including freshman Linus Altman-Kurosaki. Altman-Kurosaki is a three-time Junior National Team member and two-time Junior National champion on the three-meter and one-meter.
“In my mind, Linus is one of the top-three recruits in the country,” Huber said. “We are very lucky to have him here. He is very talented and will get even better with some coaching. He is a great athlete.”
“He is a very accomplished age-group diver,” added Waikel, who was instrumental in the recruitment of the 2008 class. “I think right off the bat he will come in and be a good team player and score points for us. He has to make that transition to the senior level, but he is a talent and you will see a lot of him over the next 4-5 years.”
Jason Spurlock was a late addition to the class and brings an infectious enthusiasm and a willingness to soak up any information he can as a relative newcomer to the sport.
“Jason came to our camp two summers ago,” Waikel said. “He has a really positive attitude and is just a great athlete. He is one of those divers we find out of camp who can really blossom into a great diver. He has the talent and this is a good program to grow that talent.
“Jason is pretty new to the sport, but he has a lot of character and is a tremendous athlete. He is a diamond in the rough and we are excited to have him.”
The Hoosiers two other newcomers aren’t new to the sport at all. Twins Jonathan and Robert Dohring will use their final year of eligibility to dive at Indiana after three seasons of diving at Division III Occidental College in California. Both have earned their degrees from Occidental and will begin graduate school at IU this fall.
Jonathan was the Division III national champion on the one-meter and three-meter in 2007. He also won conference titles in both events and holds the school’s one-meter and three-meter scoring records.
Robert was a four-time All-American at Occidental and was a two-time runner up at the NCAA Division III national championships. He shared team MVP honors with his brother Jonathan.
“These guys are as identical as they come,” Waikel said. “The only way I can tell them apart is one wears a watch. They came out to our camp before their senior year, we loved them and they loved IU. At that point they made the decision not to dive their senior year so they would have one year of eligibility left to dive here.
“They have that experience and coming into our program they will really engross themselves in fundamentals for the first couple of months and we will be able to see the potential. I think it will be exciting because they have a lot to offer. They are adults, and that maturity will be a big asset to our team.
“They are two great divers,” Huber said. “I am really excited to see what they can do. I don’t think they realize how good they can be and one of my goals is to help them raise their expectations.”
Competing against each other in practice will give the Indiana divers a taste of the battles they will face at the conference championship and national meet. The Big Ten Conference had six divers finish in the top 25 on the one-meter at the NCAA Championships and five of those divers return in 2008-09.
“The Big Ten conference is very deep,” Huber said. “It will be a dogfight to qualify for NCAAs this year. The Big Ten Championships will be a meet to watch. You will see some of the best divers in the country.”