A blend of youth and experience is what is in store for the Valparaiso University men's swimming and diving program heading into the 2006-2007 season.
Third year head coach Bryan Morrison returns nine student-athletes to the team this season from last year's squad that went 2-10 overall in dual meets and finished in sixth place in the Mid-Continent Conference. Added to the returnees is a talented pool of nine more freshmen, each of whom hopes to make his own mark on the Crusader swim program.
Even among the nine individuals that return to the pool for the Crusaders, youth wins out as just two seniors and one junior comprise the upperclass part of the roster.
The Crusaders enter the season with depth throughout the lineup. This depth will be key for Valpo as the Brown and Gold looks to move up the Mid-Continent Conference standings in their final season in the league.
Valpo will look to score a great deal of points in the breaststroke, where senior Dave Peterson takes aim at the Crusader school record in both the 100 and 200 events. He enters the season with the second fastest time in school history in both. A Second Team All Mid-Con selection in 2005-2006, Peterson was twice named the league's Athlete of the Week last season, an accomplishment he has obtained five times during his career wearing the Brown and Gold.
Sophomore Kyle Verage also returns in the breaststroke for the Crusaders this season after a solid rookie campaign. He turned in the second fastest time last year in the 100 breast, trailing just Peterson on the squad.
Three rookies will also look to make an impact in the breaststroke as they begin their collegiate careers. Andrew Geibel was the state champion in the 100 breaststroke as a junior in the state of Oklahoma and a two-time conference champion in the event. Nathan Burke posted a school record in the same event at Willoughby South High School while leading his team to four straight conference titles. John Schumacher helped guide Woodson High School to an undefeated season as a senior and will also add depth to the position.
In the butterfly, the Crusaders also have a trio of returnees joining three newcomers. Ansel Hillmer turned in some of the best performances in school history as a freshman. The sophomore's 200 butterfly time ranks fourth in Crusader laurels while his 100 fly time is fifth best all-time.
Matt Schuchhardt tied for the eighth fastest 100 butterfly time in school history during his rookie campaign. Another sophomore, he looks to give Valpo a one-two punch in the fly.
Senior P.J. Ciotola also returns for his final season in a Brown and Gold swimsuit. He has steadily improved throughout the course of his career, and will be counted on for his leadership abilities as well seeing as how he is one of the lone upperclassmen on the squad.
Three freshmen also help add depth to the butterfly for Valpo. Cody Sowder set the school record at Lebanon High School in the 100 butterfly and will look to make an immediate impact in the Crusader roster. Pat Grasso was an All-State swimmer in Illinois and ranks among his school's best in the 100 fly as well. Fellow freshman Joel Fernandez also will look to contribute in the event for the Crusaders.
Valpo's roster also contains a host of freestyle swimmers. The Crusaders should be the strongest in the middle distances, where Hillmer, besides being a top butterfly swimmer, is also the team's top returnee with Dan Cisek. As a freshman, he swam all six freestyle events, and is well-adapted to a variety of distances. Cisek turned in the second fastest 1000 time ever last year, while swimming every free event.
Ed Standen, the team's lone junior, has seen a great deal of improvement each year. Last year at the conference championships, he turned in personal bests in the 100, 200, and 500 freestyle for the Crusaders.
Joining Hillmer and Standen in the middle distances will be Grasso and Fernandez. Both freshman will be called upon to help add depth to the events.
In the distance freestyle events, Adam Jajtner returns for his second season. A Second Team All Mid-Con selection as a rookie, Jajtner set school records in both the 500 free and 1,000 free last season at the Mid-Continent Conference Championships. He also posted the second fastest mile time ever, less than two seconds off the school mark, and will go after that record this season.
Freshman Blake Edwards will also take to the pool in the longest events of the meets for the Crusaders. The rookie holds Lutheran High School of Orange County's school marks in both the 200 and 500 freestyle.
Valpo's sprint freestylers will be headed up by Schuchhardt and Ciotola. Both returnees are multi-event swimmers, who look to guide the freshmen as well. Sowder will also swim sprint events in addition to butterfly, as will freshman Dan Meals. Meals is a club record holder in the 50 free.
The backstroke will see Travis Thames look to improve upon his school record in the 200 event while looking to climb up Valpo's charts in the 100 back as well. The junior currently owns the third quickest 100 back time in school history. He will be joined in the back by Verage and Sowder this year.
Peterson, in addition to holding breaststroke records, also is the team's top swimmer in the individual medleys. He holds the school mark in the 200 IM and is third fastest all-time in the 400 event. Verage, Cisek, Burke, and Geibel will all see action in the event as well.
For the first time in several years, the Crusaders also have a diver on the roster. Quinn Bobel is a four-time All-State diver in Kentucky and will look to add points to the scoreboard for the Crusaders this year.
Valpo will dive into the pool for the 2006-2007 season on October 6 at the Dennis Stark Relays hosted by Notre Dame. The Crusaders will host four meets at the Athletics-Recreation Center pool this year beginning with Xavier (Ohio) on October 20. Valpo will also get visits from future Horizon League foes UW-Green Bay, UW-Milwaukee, and UIC this year. The season is build around improving before the Mid-Continent Conference Championships in Indianapolis, Ind. February 15-17.
Valpo has a young nucleus with several top returnees heading into the 2006-2007 campaign. As the athletes improve, so should Valpo's results, giving way to an exciting season of action in the pool this year.