FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – With the fall slate quickly approaching, Arkansas women’s swimming and diving is poised for a breakout 2014-15 season.
The Razorbacks look to continue their success from the 2013-14 season where Arkansas went 9-1 (3-1 SEC) in dual meets. The Razorbacks set a new record of 14 straight dual-meet wins from Oct. 26, 2012 to Nov. 9, 2013.
Following the successful 2013-14 campaign, Arkansas welcomes 13 newcomers after losing seven seniors last season.
“All of the seniors who graduated, we’ve got to fill those shoes,” said head coach Sean Schimmel. “That’s the nature of collegiate athletics – every year is a different team, and I think that’s one of the great things about collegiate athletics. You’ve got to fill those shoes and I think it gives people a great opportunity to step up, whether they’re a rising senior, junior, sophomore, or someone brand new to our team.”
While the Razorbacks lost key swimmers and a diver, six of the seven swimmers that qualified for the NCAA Championships return to the team this season.
With the mix of veterans and newcomers, Schimmel emphasized the importance of senior leadership and its effects on the freshmen.
“They get to learn from them,” said Schimmel of the newcomers working with the seniors. “That’s something that is just really special. We have strong leaders and we can say that in every one of our events. For the upperclassman to show the newcomers how we do things, our tradition, our work ethic, how we race and how we are on game days, that’s extremely important.”
This season, the Razorbacks will tangle with four opponents who placed in the top-50 team rankings at the NCAA Championships last season: Florida (Sept. 27), Texas A&M (Oct. 18), Missouri (Oct. 24) and Kansas (Jan. 31).
From the sprinters to the milers, Arkansas has depth in the freestyle event. The freestyle field is led by two NCAA Championship qualifiers, senior Susanna White, who swam in the 50 and 100 freestyle and junior Anna Mayfield, who swam in the 500 freestyle. White holds an Arkansas record in the 50 freestyle (22.27) and 100 freestyle (48.75), while Mayfield holds the program record in the 500 freestyle (4:41.56) and has the second-fastest time in the program in the 200 freestyle (1:46.76). Distance freestyler senior Lauren Jordan, an honorable mention All-American, holds the second-fastest program time in the 1,000 freestyle with a time of 9:43.97.
While the Razorbacks return a lot of veteran talent, the squad will also turn to newcomers Megan Strickland and Chloe Hannam.
“With the sprinters, we’ve got a lot of returners, being led by Susanna White, Maddie Monroe, Nina Drolc, and Anna Mayfield,” said Schimmel. “With our middle-distance freestylers, we’ve got a great group with some really strong returners. Mayfield, who is the team record-holder in the 500, and is joined by Rachel Stoehr, Aiden Lister and Lauren Jordan. In the milers, it’s always strong for us with Lauren Jordan, and Aiden and Rachel Stoehr. Freshman Chloe Hannam who is really looking to test that event as well.”
Highlighted by All-American Nikki Daniels, the breaststroke corps looks to excite in the 2014-15 season. At the 2014 NCAA Championships, Daniels swam in the 100 and 200 breaststroke. Daniels also holds the Arkansas all-time record in the 100 breaststroke (59.11) and has swam all five of the program’s top times. Senior Julia Banach brings leadership and speed to the breaststroke group, swimming the second fastest times for the Razorbacks in the 100 and 200 breaststroke.
In addition to returners Mary Margaret Soderberg and Erika McGovern, Arkansas will look to newcomer Madison Edwards to aid the Razorbacks in the breaststroke field.
“It’s always exciting with the breaststroke group, with Daniels leading the way,” said Schimmel. “Our breaststroke group is a dynamic, awesome group. Banach is an absolutely great trainer, she and Daniels raise the bar in regards to how we do that day in and day out. We have Maddie Edwards coming into the mix and Soderberg coming back as a sophomore, and we have some other freshmen that we’re training in that group. How can you not learn, or try to raise your bar when you have people like Nikki and Julia leading that group?”
Led by junior Anna Mayfield, the Arkansas backstroke field features a mix of veterans and newcomers. Mayfield swam in the 100 and 200 backstroke at the 2014 NCAA Championships, and holds the Arkansas record in the 200 backstroke (1:54.50). Last season, Mayfield was .02 seconds from breaking the program record in the 100 backstroke. The Razorbacks welcome back senior Liz Braun who took a year off in 2014, but returns as a force in the backstroke field. Senior Lauren Jordan was the second-fastest Razorback in the 200 backstroke event last season.
Newcomers Chloe Hannam and Chelsea Tatlow look to make an immediate impact for Arkansas, along with rising sophomore Sarah Easterling.
“We’ve got great backstrokers,” said Schimmel. “Anna Mayfield, who was at NCAAs last year in the backstroke, and top eight at SECs, our team record holder – she’s leading the way and followed right behind her is Jordan and Hannam, who is new coming in with Tatlow. We have an extremely strong backstroke field. We’ve got great players and a lot of developing to do, but for right now I feel good about our women in the backstroke.”
Schimmel has built up the butterfly event over his past two season at Arkansas. The event now showcases more depth, highlighted by White, who swam in the 100 at the 2014 NCAA Championships. White holds the program record in the 100 butterfly and all top-five times in the event. Braun also returns as a strong 200 flyer and will lead newcomer Taylor Weiss in the 200 yard race.
“Our team record holder, Susanna White, in the sprint flyers leading the way, we’ve got some people coming into the mix,” said Schimmel. “Olivia Weekly and Jessie Garrison, are in there. Garrison is a 100 and 200 flyer, the 200 flyers has been a hole that we’ve been trying to fill. This year we’ve got Liz Braun back, which we were extremely excited about having her back, she’s a great 200 flyer. She’s leading that group with newcomer Weiss.”
Garrison, Weekly, Caitlin Sheridan and Weiss join sophomore Anna Williams and junior Rachel Kessler in the butterfly field.
“With all those women, we’ve got a really good mix and dynamic now of flyers on the team,” said Schimmel. “Whether you’re a straight up sprint flyer or a 200 flyer, we have a lot going on there. We have some good depth and an opportunity to move things around in our lineup. That was a hole we were trying to fill and we got some more depth in there.”
The Razorbacks lost Arkansas great Kesha Naylor last season, but welcome freshman Nicole Gillis of Johannesburg, South Africa, to the lineup. Gillis joins returning divers senior Meghan Clark and juniors Hannah Bortnick and Shelby Bartlett.
“We have four very strong divers this year,” said Schimmel, “Which is great. Each of them are helping to raise the bar in terms of work ethic and competitiveness. Megan Clark’s leadership as a senior is extremely valuable to our success on the boards. Having our new freshman Nicole Gillis learn from Megan Clark, Hannah Bortnick and Shelby Bartlett is going to be very beneficial to our ability to compete at the highest level.”
Last season, Bartlett finished in 17th place in the platform diving event with a personal best score of 236.60 at the NCAA Zone Diving Championships. In the three meter springboards, all three returning divers finished top-30 in the prelims of the NCAA Zone Championships.
The Razorbacks will open the 2014-15 season at Florida on Sept. 27, at 10 a.m. The meet will be streamed through SEC Network + and can be watched here.
For more information on Arkansas Swimming and Diving, follow @RazorbackSD on Twitter.