After an undefeated dual meet season and a prominent Big Ten title, the No. 4-ranked IU men’s swimming and diving team looks to add yet another trophy to its cupboard this year.
When the Hoosiers travel to compete at this weekend’s NCAA Championships, they won’t have far to go, as the meet will take place this Wednesday through Saturday at the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis. Head swim coach Ray Looze said the NCAAs will be a great opportunity for his athletes.
“We love this pool,” Looze said. “If you had to ask what the favorite pool for a lot of people would be, the IU Natatorium.”
The Hoosiers finished ninth at the 2016 NCAA Championships, their fourth top-10 finish in five years, but this year they appear poised for a top-five finish.
The swimmers will be lead by juniors Blake Pieroni and Ali Khalafalla and sophomores Vini Lanza and Ian Finnerty. Pieroni, who won a gold medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, has anchored the Hoosiers all season.
His best results include sweeping the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events five separate times, in addition to being named Big Ten Swimmer of the Week three times and National Swimmer of the Week once. He will be seeded No. 2 in the 100-yard freestyle and No. 3 in the 200-yard freestyle.
Lanza, coming off a Big Ten Championship where he won four golds and one silver medal, enters the NCAAs on a hot streak. He was named Big Ten Swimmer of the Championships for his performance at the conference meet, and the Brazilian will compete in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly in addition to the 200-yard IM. He will be seeded No. 7 in both butterfly events.
Finnerty has been equally as impressive. He comes into NCAAs having successfully defended his 100-yard breaststroke at Big Tens. He will compete in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke and the 200-yard individual medley. He is seeded No. 3 in the 100 breast and No. 6 in the 200 IM.
Khalafalla could also post some big results for the Hoosiers. Khalafalla has won the 50-yard freestyle five times this season and he will swim both the 50- and 100-yard free this week.
“They know how to get their hand on the wall and they like to race,” Looze said of his four best swimmers. “They think about it constantly, they dream about it. And they’re among the better swimmers at this meet.”
Juniors Cody Coldren and Michael Hixon and sophomore James Connor will represent the Hoosier divers. Hixon enters the week after being named Big Ten Diver of the Championships after winning both the 1- and 3-meter dives and finishing sixth in the 10-meter platform.
Connor wasn’t 100 percent healthy at Big Tens but bounced back at the NCAA Zone C Championships by winning the 3-meter and finishing fourth in the 1-meter and seventh in the 10-meter platform.
Hixon and Connor will both compete in the 1- and 3-meter springboard, while Connor will compete in the 1-, 3- and the 10-meter platform.
Competition will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday night with the 800-yard freestyle relay timed finals. The Hoosiers enter the event as the No. 2 seed.
“This is the best,” Looze said. “I can’t wait to measure our group of guys against the best in the NCAA.”
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