Taking Back the Big East
After five consecutive Big East Championships spanning from 1992 through 1996, the Villanova women's swimming and diving team finished third in the Conference last season. With a strong group of returnees and possibly the strongest freshmen class to ever enter Villanova, the Wildcats have no where to look but up. The 1997-98 Villanova swimming and diving team will thus try to take back what they consider their own, the Big East Championship.
"Villanova will contend with defending champion Notre Dame and perennial stronghold Miami for the Big East title," said head coach Ed Bartsch. "We hope to take our Big East Championship back. It will be very difficult to beat Notre Dame who is the favorite going in, but I think we have a great shot at doing the job."
The greatest strength of the 1997-98 Wildcats will come in the sprint events. Last season, Tara Brock won the Big East Championship in the 100 yard freestyle in her freshman year on the Main Line. Brock along with juniors Elizabeth Lauwaert, Nicole Robillard, Kristin Stretanski, sophomore Julie Lapinsky and freshman Kristen Olson together will look to lead the 'Cats in the 50 and 100 yard freestyle events this season.
Amanda Cosman, school record holder in the 200 and 500 yard freestyles, is back for her senior year and will lead the way in the middle distance freestyle events. In the distance freestyle events, sophomore Keri Thorne returns with freshmen Katie Armitage and Katherine Volz adding depth.
If the Wildcats have limited depth in any of their events this season it is in the breaststroke, where senior Laurie Haibach is the only returning swimmer. Haibach is trying to recover from the shoulder injury that hampered her last season. Despite the injury, however, Haibach none-the-less made the Big East consolation finals in both the 100 and 200 yard breaststroke. She will be looked upon to improve upon her Big East performances of a year ago. It is essential that freshman Katie Gannon step in right away to provide support to the 'Cats in a position where they desperately need it.
Butterfly will be a strength for the Wildcats in 1997-98 once again, if two freshmen in All-American Danielle Macejka and Kristin Veal can step in to provide support for senior Anne-Marie Adams, junior Nicole Robillard and sophomore Renee Scherr. Robillard holds the Villanova school record in the 100 yard butterfly, and along with Adams should be a major factor in Big East competition.
In the backstroke, the 'Cats will be led by two NCAA qualifiers in 1997-98. Sophomore Julie Lapinsky and junior Jackie Gruters who both qualified in the 100 and 200 yard backstroke, will once again be the force behind the Villanova backstroke squad. Junior Mary-Elizabeth Fay who placed in the Big East consolation finals in the 100, and Macejka will also add depth.
Through the years, one of the many constants for the Villanova women's swimming program has been the strength of the Wildcat relay teams. Last season that remained true, as the Villanova women won Big East titles in both the 400 yard medley relay and the 200 and 400 yard freestyle relays. Other than Catie Sosnowski who was lost from the 400 yard relay medley team because of a car accident this past spring, the relay teams should closely resemble the Big East Champion squads of last season.
"We have strong relay teams that have continually won and it has been one of Villanova's traditional strong points," said Bartsch. "That should once again be the case."
For the Villanova diving team, junior Tibby Fogarty and sophomore Meilyn Ruiz return and hope to add to the success they achieved last season. Fogarty holds the Villanova record for the one-meter dive (342.60) on ten dives, while Ruiz holds the three-meter dive record (268.65) on six dives. Each should be major contributors in the season ahead, along with a newcomer in freshman Kristin Merlini.
"Everything that we want to achieve this season will depend on lettermen living up to past performances and improving along with the freshmen coming in and doing the job that is expected of them," said Bartsch.
As a team, Bartsch and the Wildcats would like to regain the Big East Championship that escaped them last season. Individually, however, Bartsch's goal is to have six women qualify for the NCAA Championships in March. If the Wildcats get the right combination of leadership from their returning swimmers and divers and contributions from their highly touted freshmen class, the 1997-98 season may just be the year that the Big East Championship trophy returns to the Main Line where it belongs.
Counting On Youth
Despite impressive individual performances by senior Tom Tracey last season, the Wildcats fell to sixth in the Big East after finishing fourth in 1996. With the All-American, NCAA finalist and two-time Big East Champion, lost to graduation however, 1997-98 will be a year of youth for the Villanova men's swimming and diving program.
"The loss of Tom Tracey who is a multiple team record holder, will be significant," said head coach Ed Bartsch. "We will try to overcome the loss with a strong contingent of seven freshmen."
The main strength of this season's Wildcat team will be in the butterfly. Vincent Allegra who had a tremendous freshman season for the 'Cats with a fourth place finish in the 100 yard butterfly at the Big East Championships, should be a Big East finalist in the 100 yard butterfly event in the upcoming year. Senior Nathan Smith, a Big East finalist in the 100 yard butterfly, also returns to lead the 'Cats butterfly squad in 1997-98. Adding depth in the fly this season will be freshmen James Fry, Tyler Montaldi and Cass Tokarski. Fry holds the 1996 100 yard butterfly Virginia state record, while Montaldi and Tokarski were junior national finalists.
Gus Membiela will lead the Wildcat backstroke events in 1997-98. A Villanova record holder in the 200 yard individual medley, Membiela will try to overcome the injury problems he had a year ago, to contribute in the backstroke. The sophomore duo of David Halco and Brian Finucane who each contributed last season as freshmen, will be looked upon for continued improvement this season as both are potential Big East contenders.
Breaststroke is where the Wildcats have the least amount of depth in the year that lies ahead as junior John Proto and sophomore Joe Perez are the team's only two breaststroke swimmers this season. Each were key contributors to the success Villanova saw last season, but each will have to step up even more for the 'Cats to reach the same success in 1997-98. In a season which looks to be full of question marks, the freestyle sprints should not be one of them. Senior Jarad Lucan, Allegra, freshman R.C. Thompson and several other newcomers will comprise the nucleus of the freestyle relay team. A Big East finalist in the 50, 100 and 200 yard freestyle, Lucan is one of the conference's top sprinters. Freshman Duane Couture will also lend support in the sprint freestyle events.
In the middle distance and distance freestyle events, coach Bartsch and the Wildcats will have to depend on one senior and a great deal of youth. Lucan will anchor the middle distance freestyle events this year, with freshmen Chris Mercurio and Fry adding depth. In the distance freestyle events, the 'Cats will look to sophomore Matthew Montrasio and freshman Tom Dion. Montrasio was a 1997 Big East finalist in the 1650 yard freestyle and will have to match his performance of a year ago to help the 'Cats compete in a competitive Big East Conference.
The Villanova diving team in 1997-98 will be comprised of only one returnee in Bob Benson and freshman Brian Mulligan. Entering his junior season, Benson is expected to be a major contributor in 1997-98. His best finish as a sophomore came in the three-meter dive at Princeton, where he placed second.
"Overall, we are probably looking at a middle of the conference finish," said Bartsch. "We would like to return to the top four though, after slipping to sixth last season. I also hope that we are able to get two swimmers to qualify for the NCAA's in March."
With only three seniors on the entire roster and a promising freshmen class of seven coming in, it looks to be the beginning of a new era for the men's swimming and diving program. Having to count on youth for success in 1997-98 is a challenge that Villanova head coach Ed Bartsch and his Wildcats welcome.