|Swimming Teams Head To Fairfax For CAA's|
WILMINGTON, North Carolina - Call it what you wish, but there's only one word to describe what the UNCW men have accomplished over the last 11 seasons at the Colonial Athletic Association Swimming and Diving Championships: Dynasty.
Coach Dave Allen carries the men's and women's swimming and diving teams to Fairfax, Va., this week hoping for another successful trip to Northern Virginia. The men have reeled off 11 straight championships, dating back to 2002, and the women are looking to return to the upper tier of the nine-team competition at George Mason's McKay Natatorium.
The Seahawk men finished with a 5-5 record during the dual meet portion of the season behind seniors Stephen Conrad, Daniel Crow, Ray McGorry, Nate Sherron and Michael Williams, junior Joe Gallene and sophomores Nick Lowe and Valteiri Halonen.
"The target gets bigger and bigger," Allen said of the pressure the Seahawks face at the CAA meet. "Everybody wants a piece of us now. It's going to be a very fast and very competitive meet. We can't take anything for granted. We'll have to work every bit as hard - and even harder - to keep the championship here."
More than ever before, Allen said, the relays will play a big role in determining the outcome of the meet. UNCW has traditionally fared well in the relay events, setting the tone for the rest of the individual events.
"When you look at the relays," Allen said, "they will play a big part in the direction of the meet. They will be important, not only because of the points, but because of the distance you can put between you and everyone else."
The Seahawk men won three of the five relays one year ago en route to a convincing 57-point win over second place George Mason. Every member of the winning 200 Freestyle Relay, 400 Freestyle Relay and 200 Medley Relay units returns.
In a change to the program, the 200 Medley Relays and 800 Free Relays will be contested Wednesday night. That leaves one each on the remaining three nights of the meet.
"It will benefit us and the student-athletes," said Allen. "It will allow them to get more rest. We'll have a shortened session on Friday and that will enable the swimmers to get more rest going into the final day."
During the dual meet season, UNCW's relays ranked first or second in the CAA in five events. The men's 400 Freestyle Relay and 200 Medley Relay units topped the conference, while the 200 Freestyle Relay and 400 Medley Relay teams ranked second.
Gallene, Halonen, Lowe, Conrad and Williams each figure to be the workhorses for the men, who dominated last year's meet and have helped the Seahawks hold off GMU seven of the last nine years. Halonen and Williams were each recognized as the CAA Swimmer-of-the-Week during the dual meet season.
Allen continued, "Another major factor for us will be the ability to score in more than two events. We'll need our guys to score in all three events. Depth has helped us in the past and it's something we'll be relying on again this year.
"We're taking 17 swimmers and two divers and they will all be important. They'll all have to score for us to win. Our two divers will also be very important to the success of the team. We're looking for them to score and a finish in the top-9 would be a tremendous lift to our team.
"During the dual meet season, we showed we have the talent. Some of our younger swimmers gained experience and I feel very good about our team going into the championships."
Allen expects William & Mary and host George Mason to provide the stiffest competition in the men's meet. The improving Tribe features a strong freshman class, and the Patriots are swimming in their own pool with lots of confidence."
The Seahawk women, meanwhile, wound up only 2-12 during the dual meet season after graduating a whopping 13 seniors last year. Still, Allen says the team has the potential to post a top-3 finish for the 11th consecutive year. UNCW finished third one year ago behind James Madison and Towson.
"We had a large number to replace this year and it's been a work in progress since the very beginning," Allen said. "I can definitely say we're better now than when we started. We will contend for a spot in the middle of the pack, but will certainly shoot for the top three. That's a goal for us and a position we've been in for awhile."
Seven seniors, headlined by Carly Tanner and Rachel Wilson, will lead the Seahawks into Fairfax and junior Rachel Sears and sophomore Hannah Stephenson should be big contributors. Tanner earned CAA Swimmer-of-the-Week accolades twice in the dual meet season and defends her title in the 50 Freestyle. Stephenson set a pool record in the 200 Backstroke at the Seahawk Natatorium against N.C. State and returns to defend her crown in the 100 Backstroke.
"Carly, Hannah, Rachel and Rachel will all have to finish in the top-8 and we're going to have to get our other women to filter into scoring positions in the two of their three events," Allen calculated. "We're going to have to perform extremely well and place in the top three or four in the relays.
"Carly has had a very good year. She's been a leader inside and outside the pool and will be a major contributor on all of the relays. She will be an important factor in the direction of the women's team."
Stephenson, from Raleigh, N.C., is "very talented and very capable," according to Allen. The second-year swimmer hopes to add the 200 Backstroke to her medal collection.
Allen said, "We have a lot of new faces this year and we'll see how they come along at this meet. You never know how freshmen are going to respond. If they step up, that will be the direction our team goes.
"We're looking for a strong finish to the season. Our win-loss record in the dual meets has not been very good, but this meet is what we compete for and to finish in the upper half and top three would be a tremendous level of improvement for the women's team."
The Seahawks are no stranger to the venue. The men won the Patriot Invitational back in mid-November and have captured 11 of the 13 meets since the conference finale moved to Fairfax from Charlotte in 2000.
"We like to go there in November to swim because it allows our student-athletes will move through a similar schedule. I think that helps us a great deal. They get a better level of comfort and when they get there, they know what to expect."