UMBC Gears Up For Swimming and Diving Title Defense
UMBC received the coaches’ vote of confidence back in November to win their ninth straight men’s title and the Retrievers enter the four-day championship in prime position to do so. UMBC boasts some of the league’s top swimmers including Steve Gallagher and Pierre De Waal, who, together, qualify as the No. 1 seed in nine events. De Waal and Gallagher raced to the conference’s best time in all but one freestyle event this season. On the boards, Andrew Eckhoff, who finished second in both the one and three meter diving events last season, established himself as the diver to beat this year breaking 300 points in both events. Since joining America East in 2004, the Retrievers have not lost a conference championship meet.
Boston University finished just behind the Retriever men in 2011 and hope their home pool will provide the lift needed to knock UMBC off its throne. The Terriers will look to senior Daniel Kempf to carry the load. Kempf swam in seven events at the 2011 championship meet and took home six gold medals. He will challenge UMBC’s Gallagher for the sprint-freestyle crowns. The Terriers should also be strong in the relay events entering the weekend as the defending champion in four of five relays.
Two 2011 all-conference swimmers and a rookie diver will lead Binghamton as it looks to exceed the preseason prediction of third it received in November. Nolan Slesnick won the 400 IM last year while teammate Josh Saccurato placed third in the same race. The Bearcats have one of the bright rookie talents in the conference in diver Devin Zdanowki. The freshman ranks second in both the one and three meter dives this season.
Maine’s fourth-place finish last year was its best since 2006 and the Black Bears have the talent to improve on that finish this year. Yuri Chornobil, a two-time Male Swimmer of the Week this year, will score points in the distance freestyle races and potentially in the breaststroke. Brian Landry, meanwhile, finished eighth in the 200 breaststroke in 2011 but has one of the top time in the conference this season.
Stony Brook will rely on the strength of its rookie diver, Kyle Gannon, who highlights a group of 10 freshmen making their America East Championship debut. Gannon picked up two Male Diver of the Week nods this year and enter the one-meter competition ranked fourth.
For the women, UMBC rode of core of juniors to replant itself at the top of the America East last season and now those seniors are hungry for another title. 2011 Most Outstanding Female Swimmer Abbey McKenney won three individual events last year and has been a staple for the Retrievers in 2012 in the freestyle events. Jennifer Kotonias posted some the best conference times in the mid-distance freestyle events and the individual medleys. UMBC is looking for its fourth conference crown since joining the America East.
The Boston U. women’s sqaud aims to unseat UMBC after the Retrievers snapped its streak of back-to-back titles last year. Melinda Matyas, the 2011 Female Diver of the Meet, leads the Terriers on the boards while Kristin Connors is primed for a big championship weekend. Matyas qualifies first off the three-meter board and second off the one-meter while Connors is the top qualifier in all of the breaststroke events. Kendra Cheng will challenge for gold in the backstroke and freestyle events.
New Hampshire turned in a great regular season in the pool after a third-place pick in the preseason poll. The Wildcats look to Shelli Reed to lead the way in the pool. Reed enters the championship qualifying within the top-3 of the sprint-freestyle events including No. 2 in the 200. On the boards, Ellen Pelletier, a three-time Female Diver of the Week this season, ranks No. 1 in the one-meter competition.
Vermont broke 11 school records at last year’s championship. Picked fourth in the preseason, the Catamounts bring back several of those record setters, including Kailey Gardner. The junior set a school mark in the 1,650 freestyle. Diver Lauren Colby will also score points for UVM team that has finished fourth or higher in each of the last four championship meets.
Tiffany Siu and Caitlin Kelly lead hungry group of Binghamton Bearcats into Boston for the championship. Siu is the defending champion in the 200 fly while Kelly, just a rookie, is a top-10 qualifier in the 50 and 100-freestyle (eighth in both).
Stony Brook’s strength resides in its distance freestyle swimmers. Darcy Heuser qualified in the top-10 for both the 500 and 1,000 freestyle events while her teammate Julie Policht swam the conference’s sixth fastest time in the 500 this season.
Maine looks to end a streak of three straight last place finishes at the conference championship meet. The Black Bears have the young talent to do so, led by freshman Naja Harvey. The rookie produced top times for Maine all season including the fifth fastest in the 100 free and the sixth fastest in the 100 breast.
Action at the 2012 Championship begins at 5 p.m. on Thursday