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IU swimming and diving faces top-20 competition



pieroni

Then-sophomore Blake Pieroni, now a senior, dives off the starting block during the 100-yard breaststroke during a 2015 meet against Cincinnati at the Counsilman Billingsley Aquatic Center. Pieroni won both the 200m freestyle with a time of 1:34.10 and the 100m freestyle by touching the wall with a time of 43.18 in IU's first meet of the 2017-18 season against Florida and Texas. Rachel Meert Buy Photos

The season is finally here for the IU swimming and diving team as it travels to Gainesville, Florida, to take on the University of Florida and the University of Texas. 

Florida's and Texas' men's and women's teams are both ranked inside the top-20 of the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America rankings.

Day one of the meet will start at 6 p.m. Friday and the second and final day will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday morning.

The IU's men’s team will have a top-10 meet on its hands with Florida and Texas, as all teams are ranked inside the top six. Texas is ranked No. 2 in the country, while Florida and IU aren’t far behind at No. 4 and No. 6, respectively. 

Head Diving Coach Drew Johansen said this type of competition early in the season gives the team a chance to prepare right out of the gate. 

“To be able to measure up against the top divers in the country, as early as possible, it’s just going to prepare them and focus their training as we get ready for championship season," Johansen said.

One main storyline heading into the tri-meet is the six freshmen on the diving roster that make up one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. 

“We have a group of veteran divers mentoring and working with one of the better recruiting classes in the country," Johansen said. "The best recruiting class I’ve had since I’ve been here at IU."

The freshmen were a topic of interest for Johansen, as they will be experiencing their first collegiate meet. Johansen said it will be quite different from what they went through during high school.

The team will fly to Orlando, Florida, and bus to Gainesville on Oct. 19 and practice during the afternoon to prepare for the weekend. However, before the team gets to practice, they will face a unique set of distractions. 

White nationalist and President of the National Policy Institute, Richard Spencer, plans on giving a speech Thursday night at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for Performing Arts on the University of Florida campus. The center is approximately two miles from the Stephen C. O'Connell Center Natatorium, where the team will be practicing Thursday night. 

Spencer is known for his role in organizing the Charlottesville, Virginia, white nationalist rally that led to the death of a counter-protester in August. 

Jeremy Gray, IU Senior Associate Athletic Director for Strategic Communications and Fan Experience, confirmed an IUPD officer will accompany the swimming and diving team and coaching staff to Florida.

Gray said it's common for higher-profile sports like men's basketball and football to travel with an IUPD officer. Gray also said the officer's purpose with the swimming and diving team will be mainly to help communicate with security personnel already in Florida. 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency ahead of Spencer's planned speech. 

University of Florida President, W. Kent Fuchs, advised students and faculty avoid Spencer's event and not provide him with the attention he’s seeking. 

All of these potential distractions will occur Thursday, a day before the Hoosiers will have to focus on competing in the tri-meet. 

Head Swimming Coach Ray Looze said there’s only one improvement the team focused on during the offseason — speed. 

Part of this strategy was to hire Coley Stickels, who made his way to Bloomington from Canyons Aquatic Club in Santa Clara, California, after guiding world-record holder, American Abbey Weitzeil, to gold and silver medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.  

“We’ve really been trying to add speed to our team,” Looze said. “We started by hiring one of the top sprint coaches in the country.” 

While Stickels works with both the men's and women’s team, the men’s team has a target on its back after last year’s wins over Florida and Texas. 

“On the men’s side we won both meets last year, so both of those teams are going to be coming at us pretty hard,” Looze said. “We want to be top five, so if we you want to be top five you have go after these guys.”

After the tri-meet this weekend, the Hoosiers will travel again next weekend to face Kentucky and Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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