FAYETTEVILLE – The University of Arkansas swimming and diving team welcomes eight newcomers to its 2011-12 squad after losing six seniors from 2010-11. Among the important pieces lost is Jamie Marks, a 2009 All-American with top-five times in three different events in the UA record book.
Razorbacks head coach Jeff Poppell has a deep group of returners including All-American Chelsea Franklin, but believes the development of the newcomers will be crucial to his team’s success.
"I think a lot of our success is going to weigh heavily on how the youth do," Poppell said. "They make up about half of our team. I think a lot of our success is going to hinge on how our younger athletes do."
Razorback swimmers and divers combined to break seven Arkansas records in 2011, while earning a program-best College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) rank of 17th during the course of the season and finishing at No. 24. The Hogs will look to continue that success against a challenging 2011-12 schedule packed with highly ranked competitors, starting with a trip to Auburn on Oct. 5.
The distance freestyle group was the deepest and most talented section of the 2010-11 team. "When you’re talking about leaders, you have to go right to the distance freestylers," Poppell said. That distance freestyle group is led by 2011 All-American Chelsea Franklin, who set UA records in the 500, 1,000 and 1,650 free events.
Franklin put herself ahead of the pack in distance freestyle with her record-breaking 2011 season. She holds the top two times in the 1,000 free, and three of the top five in the 1,650 free. She set the UA record and finished seventh at the NCAA Championships in the 1,650 free, the second-best individual finish in program history. Nicole Menzel and Allison Templin will be expected to support Franklin with top times in distance freestyle events.
The middle distance freestyle will be paced by Sigrun Sverrisdottir, Franklin, and Katie Whitbeck. Sverrisdottir thrust herself into second all time in the UA record books in the 200 free in 2011, and Franklin submitted the third and fourth-best times. Whitbeck still holds the fifth-best from a 2010 performance.
The Razorbacks are less deep in sprint freestyle events, and will need newcomers to step up. One of those expected to score well is freshman Susanna White, who Poppell says is one of the top freshman freestyle sprinters in the nation.
"She’s a freshman that we’re looking to for leadership in the sprint freestyle events," he said.
Arkansas’ breaststroke took a hit after the departure of two-time SEC Champion Yi-Ting Siow in 2010, and 2011 graduates Erin Neumann and Jamie Marks will also be missed.
Poppell and his staff recruited heavily in the breaststroke, and he is excited about the youth movement in the event.
"Our top five breaststrokers are all freshmen," Poppell said. "I’m excited about them, they’re very competitive which I think will be great, because they’re going to feed off of each other throughout the course of the season. We’ve got a lot of ability, a lot of potential with that freshmen group."
The Razorbacks look to improve upon one of the most successful seasons in the backstroke in recent memory.
Arkansas returns its top performers in back events from last season in Haley Smith and Liz Braun. Braun broke the UA record in the 200 back as a freshman last season. Smith had four different 2011 performances that stamped her name in the top five of the 100 and 200 back events.
Julia Kucherich and Jillienne Schilling will also be counted on to score highly in the backstroke. All four swimmers have qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials in the 200 back and should combine this year to be a powerful force.
"We’re really excited about the prospects of that group," Poppell said.
Katie Whitbeck returns for her senior year as the clear leader in butterfly events. Whitbeck has the top five 100 times in the UA record books, and led the team in both the 100 and 200 fly last season. Lisa Lunkenheimer and Elizabeth Braun will also figure prominently in the fly, as they rounded out the team’s top three in the 100 last year and posted strong marks in the 200 as well.
Coach Poppell related that freshman Taylor Temple will be counted on to provide depth in both the 100 and 200 fly as well.
Kucherich and Schilling figure to lead the Razorbacks in the 400 individual medley events. Each swimmer has qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 400 IM.
"We’re looking for both of them to score high at the SEC Championships," Poppell said.
The Razorbacks have graduated All-American individual medley specialists in each of the last two years, the last being Jamie Marks. Poppell will look to his newcomers to fill part of that void, especially in the 200m IM. His strong freshman group in the 200 IM will be led by Susanna White, who broke the YMCA record for the 200 IM when she won the YMCA National Championship in the summer of 2011.
Diving coach Dale Schultz will look to improve upon a fourth place finish in the SEC last season, the team’s best under the current coaching staff.
2011 SEC All-Freshman Team selection Kesha Naylor will lead the group of divers. Naylor earned NCAA Zone Diving qualifying marks in each of the three diving events, and broke Arkansas records in three-meter and platform diving. She dove and placed highly at the Canadian Senior Nationals in the summer of 2011.
Seniors Liana Bugslag and Alex Roman will flank Naylor as high scorers and senior leaders of the diving team. Bugslag notched a career-best score on the platform in 2011, and holds the second-through-fifth best scores in that event behind Naylor’s school record.
Coach Schultz commented that none of his divers had much experience on the tower entering last season, and they have been training hard over the summer.
"I’m excited about this year" Schultz said. "I’m really looking forward to the SEC Championships. Everybody’s training hard on tower, and we have another year of experience."
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