Swimming and Diving Sets Sights High in 2016-17 Campaign
LEXINGTON, Ky. – As the University of Kentucky’s swimming and diving teams look to kick off their seasons and conference competition on Oct. 12, fourth-year head coach Lars Jorgensen is confident his athletes can continue taking the program to new heights in the 2016-17 season.
Coming off a successful 2015-16 campaign in which Kentucky saw 14 school records broken, 13 student-athletes compete at the NCAA Championships, six All-Americans honored and the program’s first ever national championship swimmer, the Wildcats and Jorgensen will look to build on that success throughout the course of the season.
“Ultimately our main goal is to continue to get better on the national level and see how well we can do at the NCAA Championships,” said Jorgensen. “We had a really good season last year that we’re really happy with. We had nine women and four men at the NCAA Championships which was phenomenal, so now we have to get some more people to the meet and have them contribute some more points. That’s really our main goal.”
According to Jorgensen, placing 20 student-athletes at the NCAA Championships this season is the goal. Recognizing it will be a challenge, Jorgensen orchestrated a difficult dual schedule to help prepare his swimmers and divers for the big stage.
UK will face a ranked opponent in virtually each of its outings this season, starting with SEC opponents Auburn and South Carolina in consecutive road contests (Oct. 12-13). Conference meets will prove once again to be difficult matches as six women’s and eight men’s SEC teams finished in the top 25 at the NCAA Championships last year, including Kentucky’s women’s squad, which finished 22nd overall.
In all, the men will face eight teams which were ranked in last season’s final CSCAA top-25 poll while the women will face nine throughout the dual season. Dual competitors feature a combined 82 returning athletes that scored at the 2016 NCAA Championships, collecting 107 First Team All-America honors along with 97 All-America honorable mention honors. Of those 82 athletes, four put on gold-medal performances at the national meet, while nine athletes claimed silver and 11 took home bronze.
“It’s going to be challenging for us but it’s something we’re really looking forward to,” said Jorgensen. “We’ll be competing against the very best, not just in our country but the very best in the world, often times with Olympians in our conference. It’s great for Kentucky to be in that competitive of an arena.”
Kentucky had an Olympian of its own in this summer’s Rio Olympics, as senior Sean Gunn competed in the 100-meter freestyle for his home country of Zimbabwe, where he broke his own Zimbabwean record, touching in at 50.87 seconds. Gunn represents the first Olympian of the Jorgensen era.
Jorgensen had even more to brag about regarding the Olympics as 25 of his athletes qualified to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, in June.
“We were the only school in the country to have two women in the finals of the 200 backstroke in Bridgette Alexander and Danielle Galyer which is really impactful for our program,” said Jorgensen. “We also had Kyle Higgins compete in the semifinals of the 200 butterfly, and some of our other kids stepped up and swam really well. We had a great summer.”
Kentucky’s experienced roster will certainly lend a hand toward the teams’ post season success. In total, the Wildcats return 55 student-athletes from last year’s squads, including 11 of the 13 swimmers and divers that competed in the NCAA Championships and all six of the program’s 2015-16 All-Americans, including Danielle Galyer, defending NCAA champion in the 200-meter backstroke.
One of the most accomplished swimmers in Kentucky history, there’s no doubt Galyer will be working hard her senior season to help lead her team and defend her title.
“We’ve never had an NCAA champion swimmer at Kentucky, and with that we’ve never had anyone repeat,” said Jorgensen. “It’s not going to be easy, but I think she’s up for the challenge and I think she’s doing a great job right now.
"Danielle is highly motivated to defend her title but also to have an impact on our entire team. And not only is she a good athlete, she’s a great leader. Her leadership extends beyond the pool. Her impact that she’s had on our program will last for years.”
Galyer, Alexander, Kendra Crew and Rebecca Hamperian will serve as captains for the women’s team. The men will be led by Tanner Anderson, Andrew Aviotti, Seb Masterton and Higgins.
In Jorgensen’s eyes, leadership is one of the most important factors to a program’s success.
“You can’t win a championship if you don’t have good leaders on your team,” he said. “We have some really outstanding seniors and captains this year that are going to help lead our team and set good examples for our incoming athletes.”
Fans can expect some big things this year not only from the veterans, but from the freshmen as well.
The men’s side returns 23 athletes in total, including eight Olympic Trials qualifiers and Masterton, a 2015-16 All-America diver. Jorgensen anticipates a lot of progress from the men’s squad, stating this is the deepest men’s roster he’s had during his tenure at Kentucky.
Along with upperclassmen Gunn, Higgins, Aviotti and Brandon Flynn, Kentucky hopes to see sophomore Cobe Garcia continue to develop and stand out for the men. Last season, Garcia was named the team’s Most Improved Swimmer after recording two wins in the 50 free during the regular season, clocking in at 44.22 seconds in the 100 free for No. 11 in Kentucky’s all-time records list and qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the 50 free.
The Wildcats will also look to freshmen Glen Brown to contribute in the 2016-17 campaign. A versatile swimmer, the Kokomo, Ind., native turned in the top time for the men in the 200-yard breaststroke at this year’s Blue-White Intrasquad, as well as a second-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle and swam anchor for the second-place 400-yard freestyle relay. Brown helped lead Fishers High School to its first sectional title in school history last year, winning the 200 IM (1:50.14) and 100 back (50.51).
The women’s squad features 22 returning athletes including All-Americans Galyer, Kendal Casey, Geena Freriks, Haley McInerny and Hamperian.
The Blue and White also hope to see big things from Alexander this season. Coming off a great summer in which she competed in the finals of the 200 back at the Olympic Trials, the Cats will have some high expectations for the junior.
Distance swimmers Kelly Berger and Casey are also very important to the team’s success. Casey, who earned All-American honors as part of Kentucky’s 800 free relay last season, also swam a personal record in the 1650 free for the third fastest mile mark in program history last year. Berger, a senior from Northport, Ala., made huge improvements in her junior campaign setting personal records in the 1000 and 500 for fifth in Kentucky record books.
The women will also look to newcomers Asia Seidt, Ali Galyer and Madison Winstead to be contributing swimmers this season.
Seidt was called the “swimmer of the meet” by Jorgensen after the Blue-White meet, after placing first in the 100-yard backstroke, 100-yard butterfly and the 200-yard IM for the women. The Louisville, Ky., product qualified for five events in the Olympic Trials over the summer, and finished 21st overall in the 200 back.
“Our diving is really strong on both the women’s and men’s side,” said Jorgensen. “We’re looking for them to contribute in dual meets throughout the whole season and their impact can really be felt at the NCAA Championships as well with returning All-Americans Rebecca Hamperian and Seb Masterton.”
Hamperian and Masterton both will be strong competitors for the Wildcats this season after both coming off successful 2016 campaigns. Hamperian earned the silver medal in the 1-meter dive at the SEC Championships last season and qualified all three dives at the NCAA Championships. Masterton had an exceptional freshman season, earning All-America honors after placing 11th in the platform dive. He also turned in a second-place finish at the SEC Championship in both the 3-meter and platform to earn All-SEC Second Team honors.
A team loaded with potential, the Wildcats are ready to continue making a name for themselves in the 2016-17 season. The team will travel to Auburn, Alabama, on Oct. 12 to take on the Tigers before heading to Columbia, South Carolina, the next day to face South Carolina in back-to-back SEC duals. Both meets are slated to begin at 12 p.m. ET. The Blue and White will kick off its home schedule Oct. 28, hosting Indiana and Tennessee in a double-dual.
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.