Swimming and Diving Ready to Lift Lid on 2015-16 Campaign

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Riding the wake of a tremendously successful season in 2014-15, which saw 12 school records broken and the highest individual NCAA swimming finisher in program history, the University of Kentucky swimming and diving team is ready to kick off the 2015-16 campaign and continue making strides within the perennial powerhouse that is the Southeastern Conference.  Led by third-year head coach Lars Jorgensen, the Wildcats have shown consistent improvement on both the conference and national level and boast a talented group of students for the upcoming year.

The women’s squad finished 16th in the nation last season, having amassed 95 points for the best finish since 2007.  Additionally, they received votes in the last College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) poll and turned in the best team finish in the SEC since 2011 after finishing seventh.  The SEC Championships were highlighted by the Wildcats notching not only their first swimming individual title since 1999, but UK having two students atop the podium with victories by Christina Bechtel in the 200 fly and Danielle Galyer in the 200 back.  The men finished 10th in the SEC last year in a league that features six teams ranked in the top-25 with an additional two receiving votes in the CSCAA Coaches poll.

“Last year was our second year together as a staff and we really improved and had a great season,” noted Jorgensen.  “The women had a breakthrough season, finishing 16th in the nation, which was really great.  The men’s team was really young, so we had a really good recruiting class and I think we’re going to be much improved this year.  I look forward to getting the guys back to the top-20 where they belong.”

The women, who are looking to crack the top half at the SEC Championships for the first time since 2008, return four NCAA qualifiers from the 2014-15 season, highlighted by Galyer.  A member of the USA National Team, Galyer racked up numerous conference and national accolades after being named to the All-America and SEC First Teams and was also named the SEC Female Scholar Athlete of the Year.  The Greensville, S.C. native had a standout sophomore campaign for the Blue and White, breaking the school records in the 100 back in 51.76 seconds, the 200 back in 1:50.86, and the 200 IM in 1:58.49.  She also swam legs of the school record-breaking 400 medley and 800 free relays, with the fastest split time in the 800 free relay of 1:45.77 and while her leadoff time in the 400 medley relay stands as her UK record.   Jorgensen sees Galyer as being a force on the team, stating, “she had a phenomenal summer.  She’s on the US National Team so she’s really made huge strides in improvement and she’s got a chance to contend for some titles this year.”

Also looking to make a return to the national stage after earning berths to the 2015 NCAA Championships are sophomore Bridgette Alexander, junior Kendal Casey, and redshirt-junior Rebecca Hamperian.  Hamperian headlines the diving group after ending the 2014-15 season as a two-time First Team All-American, placing fourth in the 1-meter and seventh in the platform.  Hamperian was also honored by the conference, as she was named the 2015 SEC Female Diver of the Year under the tutelage of 2015 Women’s Diving Coach of the Year Ted Hautau.  

“Rebecca was amazing last year at NCAAs,” said Hautau on the student-athlete.  “She grew up, really kind of learned that she could be one of the best girls in the country, and competed really well.  The first day on the 1-meter, she was fourth and just stayed steady rock solid.  I think she was really surprised that she made finals on tower.  It’s not really her training event; we use it more to keep her entries and she doesn’t have the biggest list but she was extremely accurate and very tough mentally.”

Alexander earned All-America honorable mention distinction in the 200 back, while she also competed in the 100 back and 200 IM at the NCAA Championships.  Additionally, the sophomore was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team.  Casey returns as the veteran distance leader, qualifying to the national meet in both the 500 and 1650 free.

In addition to the four NCAA qualifiers, the Cats return five students who scored at the SEC Championships with Kelly Berger, Morgan Contino, Ann Davies, Aubrey Jones, and Alyssa Ruffing on the roster for the upcoming season.  While UK loses five seniors who qualified for the NCAA Championships, including the NCAA 200 backstroke silver medalist and Olympic hopeful Bechtel, the squad welcomes a class of 12 freshmen and one transfer.

“As far as key new additions in freshmen, we’ve got a lot of them,” said Jorgensen.  “I don’t know if one particular person is the best right now, but we’re hoping for a few of them to really emerge because we’re going to really need them since we lost a lot on the graduation.

Jorgensen also commented on the strengths of the team as a whole.  “The strength on our women’s team is probably our middle distance stroke group:  backstroke and butterfly have been really good.  Breaststroke is really emerging.   We had been really weak on IM, and I think that’s becoming a strength for us, so that’s really good.  Diving as well is a real strength on the women’s side.”

On the men’s side, the Wildcats return three NCAA qualifiers and an additional 11 student-athletes who scored for the team at the SEC Championships.  Headlining the distance group is Brandon Flynn, who ended his sophomore campaign on the national stage in the 400 IM, 500 free, and 1650 free.  The junior made his mark in UK annals, posting the fastest time in the 400 IM in program laurels and becoming the first Wildcat to swim a sub-3:45.00 with a 15th-place finish at the SEC Championships in 3:44.99.  

Flynn was accompanied by Kyle Higgins and Levi Lindsey at the national championships.  Higgins, a butterfly specialist, competed in the 100 and 200 fly and scored the fourth-most points on the team at the SEC Championships fueled by a 1:43.36 for a mark that is just half a second shy of the school record set in 2005 by Daniel Cruz.  Lindsey earned SEC All-Freshman honors in his rookie season, and qualified to the NCAA Championships in the platform dive after recording a 403.30 at the conference meet and becoming just the second Wildcat and first freshman to reach the 400-point milestone behind school record holder Greg Ferrucci.  “Levi really surprised some people on the men’s side at SECs,” noted Hautau.  “He did not make a final in the springboard events, but he did in the platform.  And we really saw that Levi likes to compete in the big lights.  And he performed and just did an amazing job in the finals.  He liked the cameras; he liked the spotlight and the pressure.  And he didn’t have the biggest list of dives, but he had learned pretty much all of those dives two months before SECs.  That’s pretty challenging to learn a lot of dives on 10-meter.”

The men also return a handful of swimmers who posted school records last year.  Higgins appears on the lineup for the record-breaking 800 free relay team with an anchor split of 1:36.03, and the entire quartet will return to the pool this year with Scott Crosthwaite (1:36.00), Isaac Jones (1:35.56), and Sean Gunn (1:36.16) joining Higgins.  Jones holds an individual record to his name, as he set the new program standard in the 500 free at the SEC Championships en route to a 12th-place finish in the event.  The Cats have serious depth in the 500 free, with five current members of the team on the UK all-time top-10 list.  Also breaking a record individually was Andrew Aviotti, who placed ninth at the SEC Championships in the 1650 free after touching in at 15:00.35 to best Nat Lewis’s 18-year-old record by just under four-hundredths of a second.

Thanks to their success individually and on multiple relays, Croswaithe, Jones, and Gunn were the top three scorers for the Cats at the SEC Championships.  In addition to the trio of top scores, the NCAA qualifiers, and record holder Aviotti, UK also returns SEC point-winners in Tanner Anderson, Jackson Gunning, Noah Richter, Matthew Roman, James Stevenson, and Walker Thaning.  With a large group of veterans on the roster, there is still room for the 11 incoming freshmen to make in immediate impact on the team. 

“On the men’s side, it’s a little different since the team is really young,” explained Jorgensen.  “I think Bowen Anderson and Josh Swart are two freshmen that can be impactful right away along with some other guys.  The recruiting class on both sides is really deep.  So we’re just looking for new people to emerge—and quickly—at the beginning of the season to not have to wait until the end to help us out. “

Regarding the strengths on the men’s side, Jorgensen said, “I think we just have really diverse group; I don’t know if we’re particularly great at anything, probably the middle distance freestyle.  Butterfly as well is something we’re really good in.  But I think we have a chance  to have six or eight guys at NCAA’s, a legitimate chance.  So we’ll see if that happens, it’s a tall order.  It’s hard to make the meet on the men’s side, but they’re really eager and they’ve improved a lot.  I think we’re much further ahead than where we were a year ago.”

With a strong group of returning students and a solid freshman class, the Wildcats are geared up for the 2015-16 season.  Fans can catch an early look at the squad in action at the annual Blue/White scrimmage, which will be held in conjunction with Family Weekend and Alumni Weekend Friday, Oct. 2, at the Lancaster Aquatics Center with the meet beginning at 2 p.m. ET.  The team will then host its SEC home opener against Texas A&M on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 3 p.m.  

For the latest on the Kentucky swimming and diving program, follow @UKSwimDive on Twitter, on Facebook at Facebook.com/UKSwimDive, and on the web at ukathletics.com