IU, Auburn meet in Big Ten-SEC matchup


Then-Junior Dorina Szekeres dives of the block during the 100 yard breaststroke during the meet against University of Kentucky and University of Tennessee on Nov. 1, 2013 at the Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center. IU is set to begin its season Friday. File photo and File photo Buy Photos

IU swimming coach Ray Looze has made a point to elevate the level of competition his team faces from season to season.

The better the teams they face, the more prepared they are for the post season.

This year, nothing has changed.

The IU men’s and women’s teams open their season at 1 p.m. Friday against SEC power Auburn in Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center.

The meet will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

“This is kind of a fun way to start the season with live TV and a great opponent coming into town,” Looze said. “We’re excited about what we’re going to see.”

The Hoosiers welcome 18 freshmen to the men’s team and 13 to the women’s this season.

Looze described his new group as one with a “youthful exuberance.”

“It’s a younger dynamic,” he said. “There’s a lot of optimism and, ‘hey, we have a chance to get better.’ We want to develop our freshmen and show them how to get it done.”

At the conclusion of last year’s Big Ten Championship meet, four members of the men’s team were named All-Big Ten Honorees, including Big Ten Diver of the Year Darian Schmidt.

All four graduated after last season.

Looze is relying on an impressive freshman class to carry part of that weight this season, he said.

Freshman Blake Pieroni is a three-time Indiana state champion in the 100-yard freestyle. He’s also a two-time state champion in the 200-yard individual medley.

Over the summer, Pieroni won gold in the 100-freestyle at the USA Swimming Nationals.

“Especially with the freshmen here, I can feel their excitement, which makes all of us upperclassmen super excited to get up and race,” senior captain Cynthia Pammett said. “It’s refreshing to be around them, and they all bring a positive atmosphere to practice.”

Pammett said freshmen sprinters Grace Vertigans and Kennedy Goss stood out to her as top newcomers.

And that sprint group will be crucial this weekend against Auburn.

Looze said where they lack talent in the breaststroke, they will have to excel in other areas in order to compete.

“They’re known for their sprinting,” he said. “We have some good young sprinters, some freshmen and sophomores. I’d love to steal a win in the 50 or 100 freestyle.”

In the diving well, all four women’s divers, junior Lacey Houser and freshmen Jessica Parratto, Kathleen Heeter and Lauren Clarksean will be competing in their first collegiate meet.

Sophomore Michael Hixon, who transferred from Texas, is the reigning NCAA Champion in the 1- and 3-meter springboard.

Freshman James Connor competed at the 2012 London Olympic Games for Australia.

“Some of our new divers are really experienced,” IU diving Coach Drew Johansen said. “That helps some of our upperclassmen who might not have that experience. Whereas the upperclassmen know what it is to dive in the Big Ten, know what it is to survive a collegiate season. So it’s going both ways.”

The team had a “cream and crimson” scrimmage last weekend as practice for the season opener.

Senior swimmer Murray Crabtree said that brought out the excitement in everyone.

“We’re finally competing again, it’s not just workout workout workout,” he said. “Once the meets start coming you definitely see the flow of practice and the energy change.”

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