Swimming, diving look to make early statement

With the Hoosiers returning a Pan-American Games bronze medalist on one team and an individual Big Ten champion and record-setting swimmer on the other, both the IU women’s and men’s swimming and diving teams have much to look forward to this coming season.

As each team faces high expectations, both teams will open their seasons on Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn., in a dual meet against Tennessee and Kentucky.

“They’ve been pretty good about not putting pressure on themselves and not weighing too much on expectations,” IU Coach Ray Looze said. “There’s more excitement than anything else heading into this season. They really can’t wait to get started and continue to build on what we started last year.”

After a season culminating in a Big Ten championship and a No. 12 national ranking, the women’s team returns key weapons that will look to contribute to a possible fourth consecutive Big Ten title. Senior Allysa Vavra, who won a bronze medal in the 400-meter Individual Medley at the 2011 Pan American Games in Mexico and has set multiple records as a swimmer at IU, will return for what she hopes to make a historic season.

Other key returners for the Hoosiers include 2010 USA Diving National Championship winning divers Amy Cozad and Laura Ryan, along with senior Big Ten champion swimmers Nikki White, Margaux Farrell and Brittany Strumbel.

“I would say we have what it takes to be a top-five team this year,” Looze said. “Our goal is always to win the national title, but we’ve been top 10 three out of the last four years, and we want to be well into the top 10. Right now, our best ranking ever is ninth, and any ranking better than that is what we’re shooting for, and we won’t stop until we get there.”

Meanwhile, the men’s team, which finished last season ranked No. 12 in the nation and second in the Big Ten, is looking to capture its first Big Ten title in six years. Last year’s Big Ten Swimmer of the Year, junior Eric Ress, returns for the Hoosiers after winning last season’s Big Ten Championship in the 100-meter backstroke and setting IU records in the 800-meter freestyle relay, 200-meter individual medley and 200-meter backstroke.

In addition, last year’s Big Ten 100- and 200-meter backstroke champion, sophomore Cody Miller, and junior 100-meter Big Ten runner-up Zac Nees hope to again provide IU with depth.

“The depth of the team is what is going to make this team successful,” Ress said. “We are not going to be like the Indianapolis Colts where it is one guy like Peyton Manning carrying the team. Guys are really stepping up their game, and we are really going to rattle some people this year.”

While IU had its fair share of success last season, the team will take on a Tennessee squad that finished ninth in the nation. The Hoosiers will also start the season without Vavra and sophomore Brenna MacLean, who are both participating at the Pan-American Games until October 30.

However, Looze said that won’t be an excuse this weekend.

“I want to see them compete in hard-nosed racing, to go into a hostile environment and compete, win events and score points whenever we can and do so in a junkyard dog fashion,” Looze said. “We are known as a good road team that can go into any environment and make it our own, and we’re going to have to do it without a few good swimmers, but there are no excuses. We have our work cut out for us, but we’re excited for the challenge.”

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