Powerhouse IU opens season with Wildcats

Team hopes to send 18 to NCAAsa

With the women’s swimming and diving team returning all of its competitors who scored points in the Hoosiers’ 10th place finish at the NCAA Championships last spring, the team is poised for even greater accomplishments this year.

The 2008-09 season begins at 11 a.m. Saturday as the Hoosiers take on Kentucky at the Councilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center in the Student Recreation Sports Center.

“We want to take as close to a full squad, which is 18 swimmers, as possible to the NCAA meet,” IU coach Ray Looze said in a statement. “It is the most important meet of the season for this Hoosier team.”

Qualifying 18 swimmers for the NCAAs will put the Hoosiers in good position for a strong performance, perhaps even a national title, Looze said.

“We want to win a national title, and we are not afraid to say it,” he said. “When it happens, it will be predicated by the talent we have on the team, the desire of the team and the staff to keep striving for that level.”

And the Hoosiers have plenty of talent.

Senior diver Christina Loukas won the U.S. Olympic Trials and went on to place ninth at the Beijing Olympics in the 3-meter springboard this summer. She has also won two USA Diving National Championships and five Big Ten Championships during her collegiate career.

In the backstroke, the dynamic duo of juniors Kate Zubkova and Presley Bard from last year’s team are returning. Zubkova won the Big Ten Championship in both the 100 and 200 backstroke, and finished second in the 200 and third in the 100 at the NCAA Championships.

She also competed in the Beijing Olympics for her native Ukraine. Bard was an All-American in both backstroke events last year and placed second in the 100 at the Big Ten Championships. She anchored the 200 freestyle relay team that won a Big Ten Championship last year.

Zubkova should also be dominant in the butterfly this season. Last year she placed second at the Big Ten Championships and 16th at the NCAAs in the 100.

Junior Donna Smailis finished fifth at the Big Ten Championships in the 100 butterfly, 100 freestyle and 200 individual medley last year.

In addition to the returning talent from last year, the Hoosiers have a strong freshman class led by Nikki White, who finished ninth in the 400 freestyle and 12th in the 800 freestyle at the 2008 Olympic Trials. White is expected to be competitive in every freestyle event from the 100 to the mile.

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