2003-04 UCLA Swimming and Diving Outlook

The 2003-04 season sees the defending Pac-10 champion Bruins return six All-Americans from last year's NCAA Championships. Leading the way are senior All-Americans Sara Platzer, Malin Svahnstrom, Kristen Lewis and Leslie Hovsepian, along with junior All-American Lindsey Smart and sophomore Kim Vandenberg, an All-American and Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year.

New to the UCLA family are true freshmen Katie Arnold, Jeana Fuccillo, Jane Imagane, Courtney Iversen, Isabel Miesner, Katie Nelson and Amy Thurman. 'Our freshmen will make an immediate impact on the team,' said Head Coach Cyndi Gallagher. 'Our program attracts athletes who love swimming and winning, and who will do what it takes to get better. This freshman class is no different. They have raw talent and dedication that will no doubt turn some heads at NCAAs this year.

'We're coming off of an outstanding season that culminated with winning the Pac-10 title and strong performances at the NCAA Championships,' said Gallagher. 'The Pac-10 championship was the best meet I've ever seen UCLA put together as a combined effort. We're looking to have that same effort, attitude and environment for this year's Pac-10s and NCAAs.

'The team has stepped it up a notch this year. They arrived on campus in better shape. They are willing to do the work to get faster. They aren't complacent with winning Pac-10s and being in the top-10 at NCAAs,' said Gallagher. 'This is an Olympic year! That provides this team with extra inspiration and opportunities to become a part of the elite group of USA and UCLA Olympians.'

Leading the way in the sprint freestyle are returning All-Americans Sara Platzer, 2000 Olympian Malin Svahnstrom, Kim Vandenberg and Lindsey Smart.

Platzer was a seven-time All-American at the 2003 NCAA Championships, including All-American performances in the 50 and 100 Free. She also swam a career best 49.28 in the 100 Free, No. 2 in school history and the school record.

'Sara is a big time competitor. She is at her best when her best is needed. When you put Sara in a race, you know that she will win it. I don't think I have ever seen a competitor like her before,' said Gallagher. 'Platzer has gone through two shoulder surgeries in the past two years. She has had to make a lot of changes in her training and stroke technique because of her shoulders. Keeping her healthy and injury free is the key. Sara swimming at 100 percent would be a record breaking experience!'

Svahnstrom was a five-time All-American in 2003, finishing 11th in the 200 Free and 17th in the 100 freestyle and is instrumental in relay swims as well. Svahnstrom, along with Platzer, are two of the finest relay swimmers in the history of UCLA swimming. They have had big shoes to fill with former All-American Keiko Price, but they have stepped up to the challenge. 'Malin is training to make her second Olympic team for Sweden,' said Gallagher. 'She is an intense trainer and helps elevate her teammates to the highest level. This is going to be Malin's year!'

Vandenberg was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and was a four-time All-American last year. Her career best 23.07 (50 Free) is No. 5 in school history, 1:48.57 (200 Free) ranks sixth and her 49.95 (100 Free) is seventh in school history. 'Having Kim as the first UCLA swimmer to receive 'Newcomer of the Year' is an honor,' said Gallagher. 'Kim raced hard all season long and won a lot of races. With more experience at the National and NCAA level, Kim will rise to a higher level.'

Junior Lindsey Smart was the most improved swimmer last year, becoming a two-time All-American as part of the school record breaking 400 and 800 Free Relays. 'Lindsey gained a lot of confidence and experience last season at NCAAs and scoring in the relays,' said Gallagher. 'She is an outstanding trainer and I expect her to continue improving and becoming one of the forefront sprinters at UCLA.'

Also returning is junior Jeannette Nieto. 'Jeannette had a great summer that prepared her for this season,' said Gallagher. Rounding out the returning sprint freestylers are junior Kellin Chatfield and sophomore Alexis Unaphum who continue to improve every year.

The newcomer to watch in the sprint freestyle is the highly recruited Amy Thurman. 'Amy has enormous speed and is a very versatile swimmer,' said Gallagher. 'Although her best events are the sprint freestyles, she will help us in a variety of events. This year, I expect her to be one of the leaders in the 50 and 100 Free, and on all five of the relays.'

In the distance events, senior Jackie Lobdell returns as a double qualifier in both the 500 and 1650 freestyle events. Lobdell swam a career best 500 Free, 4:45.46, No. 5 in school history, last season. Lobdell also has Olympic Trial qualifying standards in the 400m freestyle. 'Jackie has the potential to crack into the top-eight at NCAAs in both the 500 and 1650 freestyle,' said Gallagher. 'It would be an outstanding way to finish her career at UCLA.'

Junior Melissa Miller is looking forward to continued improvements this season. Last year, she swam lifetime bests in the 500 and 1650, narrowly missing the NCAA championships in the 1650 with a time of 16:35.27. 'Melissa worked hard all summer to make sure she will be at the top of her game this season,' said Gallagher. 'Her work ethic and patience are two key contributors to her success.'

Sophomore Liz Keating returns in top form from attending the USA National Distance Camp this summer in Colorado Springs. Keating was one of the most improved athletes last season and has shown that she has the dedication and desire to be one of the best long distance swimmers in the nation.

Also returning from an outstanding long course summer season, swimming at home with the Michigan Wolverines is senior co-captain Krissy Tinney. 'Krissy has improved every year and is looking forward to breaking new barriers in the 500 and 1650 freestyle.' She and fellow senior Lindsay Wolf are the corner stones of the UCLA distance swimmers.

Newcomer Katie Nelson, the YMCA champion in the 500 and 1650 Free, brings in the fastest time in the 1650. Nelson's mile time of 16:21.56 would have scored at last year's NCAAs. Jane Imagane, also coming off the National Distance Camp this summer, has Olympic Trial qualifying times in both the 400 and 800 freestyle. 'Katie and Jane both bring a huge amount of talent to the distance lanes,' said Gallagher. 'We expect them to be scoring a lot of points for us in dual meets, Pac-10s and at NCAAs.'

Senior Naoko Watanabe will lead the Bruin backstrokers. After spending four months training in Japan, Watanabe qualified for the Olympic Trials in both the 100 and 200 backstroke at Senior Nationals this summer. 'Naoko's time in Japan was an eye opening experience for her. She gained a lot of confidence in herself as a person and an athlete,' said Gallagher. 'Her focus and training is more consistent and intense. She swims the backstroke in practice as fast as some of our freestylers! Just missing the NCAA Championships in the 200 Back (1:59.54) last year made her hungrier. She is going to be a tough competitor to beat.'

Junior Kim Scarborough will also lead in the backstroke events. 'Kim has made steady improvements in her stroke technique and training each year,' said Gallagher. 'She had a fantastic summer and came back to UCLA ready to take her swimming to a new level.' Junior Tamara Bal is expected to make a breakthrough in the backstroke events this year as well.

Newcomer Katie Arnold, the quickest backstroker on the squad in the 50 Back, will also be a leader in the 100 Back. Look for freshman Courtney Iversen to be a scorer in the 200 Back. 'Katie and Courtney fill some holes for us in the back stroke events. They have both just scratched the surface as to their potential.'

Senior All-American Leslie Hovsepian and NCAA qualifiers Cathy Coler and Brooke Winkler lead the way in the breaststroke. Last season, Hovsepian swam a career best 1:02.28 in the 100 Breast, No. 6 in school history. In the 200 Breast, Coler has the No. 6 time in school history, 2:14.94, and Winkler's career best of 2:15.96 ranks No. 7 in school history. Hovsepian, Coler and Winkler all had the experience of training with Bruin alumna, Olympian Elvira Fischer. 'Elvira was a great role model for them as far as swimming with confidence and being at your best in your senior year,' said Gallagher.

'Hovsepian, a former walk-on, is one of the best teachers on the team. Coler's work ethic and patience makes her a great role model. Winkler has the ability to `turn it on' whenever she is in a race. We are lucky to have three seniors with so much experience and leadership.'

Also returning are a pair of sophomores - sprint breaststroker Eileen Seissen and 200 breaststroker Shellene Catalano. They will both be looking to help the Bruins at the Pac-10 and NCAA level. 'We made some stroke technique changes with both Eileen and Shellene. If they embrace these changes and continue to practice them, their potential is limitless.'

Rounding out this group are the versatile freshmen Jeana Fuccillo, Thurman and Iversen. 'Jeana really can swim any event and any stroke. It will be fun to see how far she will go in the breaststroke.'

'We have had a tradition of outstanding butterfliers since Olympian and NCAA Champion Annette Salmeen and Olympian and German national record-holder Julia Voitovitsch,' said Gallagher. 'UCLA's tradition in butterfly continues even after graduation. Bethany Goodwin (UCLA '02) is still competing and going strong after winning the 50 and 100 Fly at the 2003 Pan American Games.'

Sophomore phenom Kim Vandenberg was the Bruins' highest placing finisher at last year's NCAA Championships, placing fifth in the 200 Fly. During a spectacular freshman campaign, she set new freshman records of 53.49 (100 Fly) and 1:55.89 (200 Fly), No. 4 and 2, respectively, in school history.

Vandenberg's training partner, senior co-captain Kristen Lewis, is at the top of her game after qualifying for the Olympic Trials this summer in the 100 and 200 butterfly. Lewis, who received All-America honors in the 200 Fly, swam career bests of 53.94 and 1:57.65. Her times rank No. 5 and 4, respectively, in school history. 'Coaching Kristen has been extremely rewarding,' said Gallagher. After being accepted to UCLA on her own, Coach Gallagher let her try out for the team. 'I knew immediately that Kristen was a special person and athlete.' It did not take long for Lewis to prove that she was worth her weight in gold. Lewis qualified and scored at the NCAA Championships her sophomore year and has not looked back.

'Kristen and Kim have a great relationship in and out of the pool. They bring out the best in each other and push the other fliers on the team,' said Gallagher.

Junior Lindsey Buck and senior Chelsea Murray are two solid fliers for the Bruins. 'Buck is a pure sprinter that has worked up to the 200 Fly. Both Buck and Murray have gotten faster every year and are looking to make an impact this year,' said Gallagher.

Also in the mix are sophomores Kendall Butler, Krista Daley and junior Melissa Miller. 'When you add Miller, Butler and Daley into the group, it shows how talented and deep we are in the butterfly events,' said Gallagher. 'We have great leadership and they all work well together to make each other better.'

Rounding out the group is newcomer Isabel Miesner. 'I think that Isabel's best event is the 100 Fly, but she can also swim the 200 Fly and 200 IM. She is a valuable asset to our team and is committed to making herself a NCAA qualifier.'

Once again, Malin Svahnstrom will lead the Bruins in the 200 IM. In 2003, she set a new school record of 1:59.58, breaking her previous record of 1:59.89.At the NCAA Championships, she had an All-America performance in the 200 IM, placing 12th.

Leading the way in the 400 IM is NCAA qualifier Brooke Winkler. In 2003, Winkler qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 200 and 400 IM, as well as the 200 Breast. 'Brooke is an extremely talented and competitive swimmer,' said Gallagher. 'She is rebounding from knee surgery she had in the spring, but I expect her to be better than ever by the Pac-10 meet.'

Joining Svahnstrom and Winkler are Lindsey Smart and Kim Scarborough. Smart was a NCAA qualifier in the 200 IM and swam a career best 2:02.40, No. 5 in school history. In addition to the backstroke events, Scarborough's much improved 400 IM will be a factor this season.

Seniors Cathy Coler and Leslie Hovsepian have both swam the 200 IM at NCAAs and should add depth to the Bruin squad. With the addition of newcomers Jeana Fuccillo, a 200 and 400IM specialist, Isabel Miesner and Courtney Iversen, the Bruins have a very competitive IM group.

'Relays are fun events at UCLA because we have so much depth in each event that we really don't know who is going to be on the relays until the last minute,' said Gallagher. 'The team has created a positive and competitive environment, so that being on a UCLA relay is looked at as an honor and a privilege.'

UCLA has a tradition of outstanding relay performances. The Bruins aim to improve upon last year's seventh place finish in the 200 Free relay this year, as well as the record breaking 400 and 800 Free Relays. 'We have almost everyone returning from last year that was on our NCAA relays, along with a few other hungry Bruins,' said Gallagher. 'Our goal is to have all four relay swimmers be at their best on the relay. If we do that, then the freestyle relays should all be in the top-five at NCAAs.'

The 200 and 400 medley relay spots are up for grabs this year. 'We have lots of experienced swimmers ready to take those spots, but they must have `Bruin Pride' swims,' said Gallagher. 'I believe that they are up to the challenge.'

Coach Tom Stebbins returns four divers from last season's squad, junior Janine Strack and sophomores Paige Thompson, Amanda Blong and Sara Clark. Also joining the squad this year is redshirt freshman Carly Banks.

'We're one of the smaller teams in the conference this year, but I like our chances to challenge,' said Stebbins. ' I like that we don't have any seniors and that we're a small group as dynamic as we are. We're very young and talented, and as the year goes on and they define their roles within the team, we could make a run at the end. This team is working very hard and will be exciting to watch.'

Strack, who did not compete the second half of last season due to a broken bone above her wrist, returns after competing during the spring and summer. In the summer, she qualified for the Senior Nationals on platform for the second time, placing 28th. Stebbins is looking for the momentum Strack gained at Nationals to carry over this season. 'During her downtime, Janine was forced to do a lot of training to her feet and, as a result, her springboard has improved tremendously,' said Stebbins. 'I hope that she will be able to carry some of the load for us on the one- and three-meter events during the dual meet season.'

Thompson returns as the Bruins' top springboard specialist. She qualified for the Senior Nationals on one meter for the first time and qualified again on three-meter. At Nationals, she was a semifinalist in both events, placing 15th on three-meter and 16th on one-meter. 'Paige had a huge summer,' said Stebbins. 'We were able to add some difficulty to her list with a successful result. This should translate to an exciting year for her. When she's on, I think that she can get in the water as well as anybody in the country. Paige has really started to take off.'

Blong joins Thompson as a springboard specialist. While training over the summer, she made a breakthrough in both her mechanical ability and consistency, according to Stebbins. 'Physically, she's in sensational shape,' said Stebbins. 'Because of that, she's diving at a level that she's never dived at before. She is going to be big time on one-meter and we hope her three-meter will follow. I think that she is going to carry one of the hardest lists on both boards in college. If she can get on her head, she's going to be tough to beat.'

Clark had a great freshman campaign. This year, she will add depth on all three events, but will specialize on platform. 'Sara's a great platform diver. We hope that she gets her full senior list off on 10-meter, which will make her very competitive,' said Stebbins. 'Her springboard is coming along. She's working really hard and doing a great job. When Sara hits her stride, she is as good as anybody we have on springboard. This could be her year.'

Carly Banks returns from having shoulder surgery last December. 'Carly is very strong and her shoulder isn't giving her any trouble,' said Stebbins. 'Getting her into as many meets as possible will be important because she hasn't competed in over a year. I think that she's going to be fun to watch. She will be a great one-meter diver and very good on platform and three-meter.'

'I think the team is ready to break through and that all of them will qualify for the zone meet and have a chance to qualify for the NCAA meet,' said Stebbins. 'If we can stay healthy and focused, we will be a team to watch come March.'

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