Husky Swimmers Hit The Pool This Weekend

Oct. 1, 2008

Whitney Hite had just one specific goal in mind when he was hired as the head coach of the Washington swimming program three years ago: get his teams into the top-10 nationally as soon as possible.

Admittedly not a patient man, Hite has nearly attained his goal in two quick seasons with the Huskies. Last season, his women's squad put together the best season in Husky history, culminating in a 12th-place finish at the NCAA Championships.

It was a record-setting season as nine individual school records were broken and all five relay records were also taken down. A school-record eight individuals participated in NCAAs and between Erin Campbell and Ariana Kukors, UW produced its most individual All-American honors since 1985. Four relay teams also posted top-12 finishes at NCAAs, producing four more All-Americans.

The bad news is that Kukors will not return in 2008-09 as she will focus on club swimming. The good news is that Campbell and four other All-Americans - Emilee Jennings Genevieve Patterson, Petra Radovic and Lindsey Sharp - return along with a solid group of swimmers who helped raise the level of Husky swimming to historic heights.

While happy with his team's performance last season, Hite still wants to push his program into the top 10.

'I think we're getting there,' Hite said about the team reaching his expectation level. 'We had some good success last year with about one-third of the records falling on the men's side and the women kind of re-writing the record books. I'm really excited about where we are. The men are poised to make the same step and I'm hopeful and encouraged the women can continue to climb the ladder.'

Despite his impatience to get his program where he wants it be, Hite is happy with the progress.

'I am certainly very pleased with where we are now and where we're going,' Hite said. 'I just want to be nationally competitive. I think the women are starting to be at the point where we're very good and the men can get there. They just have to get better every year, just keep getting better.'

The Huskies jump in the pool this weekend for their first dual meet of the 2008-09 season. The women will take on Boise State Friday night at 6 p.m. with the men swimming against Utah. Saturday the teams will face off again at Noon.

Erin Campbell, a junior, will lead the way after earning All-American honors with an eighth-place finish in the 100 fly in a school-record time of 52.61. She also set a school record in the 200 back and posted the second-fastest time in school history in the 100 back. Hite expects her to be a factor in the fly, free and back events.

'Erin made a huge jump last year and is still working hard and I can see she is hungry for even more success,' Hite said.

In addition to seniors Lindsey Sharp and Genevieve Patterson, who had strong showings at NCAAs last year, Hite also has high hopes for his sophomore class which showed signs of brilliance as freshmen in 2007-08.

'Emilee Jennings is poised to have a breakout season in sprint events,' Hite said. 'Genevieve Patterson is really, really good and one of the best breaststrokers in the country. She'll help us not only in breaststroke but in relays. Lindsey Sharp had a breakout season in the freestyle events and we expect her to do very well in those again.'

The loss of Kukors will be felt, but Hite is excited about the opportunity for others to step forward and shine.

'We're going to have to have some people step up,' Hite said. 'We had some departures but the best part about it is I really like the group that's coming in and I like the people who are returning. We're capable of having people step up and we know what they need to do. Now we just need to do it. '

The strong group of newcomers Hite mentioned includes Danielle Gong, who will join her sister, Jennifer, on the Husky squad. Gong, fresh off an appearance in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, is expected to make an immediate impact.

Additionally, Kelly Flynn from Houston, Texas, sprinter Amelia Messegee from in-state and Hannah Ross, a backstroker from Idaho, will all look to make a difference.

'Kelly Flynn has a tremendous amount of potential. She's smart, she works hard and I think she's going to be really, really good,' Hite said. 'She's going to be one of those kids at NCAAs who everyone's going to sit up and say `who is that?'

'Danielle Gong is kind of our headliner,' Hite continued. 'I think she has a lot of potential to get a lot better. She's very good now but she can continue to improve. I'm excited about her being a Husky. Not a lot of people know about those two and I kind of like that. They both have great attitudes and want to work hard. That whole group is going to surprise some people.'

Campbell leads the group, having had a breakout season in 2007-08. She holds the school record and is an All-American in the 100 fly, swimming a 52.61 at the NCAA Championships.

Seniors Shandra Case and Marisa Chang will also look to add depth in the event as Case posted the eighth-fastest time in school history in the 100 fly while Chang swam the sixth-fastest time at 55.33.

Hite expects incoming freshman Danielle Gong to add depth to the fly events as well.

Showing her versatility, Campbell will also lead the Huskies in the backstroke. She competed in the 200 back at NCAAs after swimming a personal-best 1:56.37 at the Pac-10 Championships where she went on to finish fifth. She also posted the second-fastest time in school history in the 100 back at Pac-10s, finishing 10th in the event. She never finished lower than second in the 100 back in eight dual events, winning the event six times.

Senior Liz Johnson, who posted the sixth-fastest time in history in the 200 back, will also being a key force for the Huskies.

Jennifer Gong, who finished 24th at Pac-10s in the 200 back, will add depth in the back events, while freshman Hannah Ross is someone Hite expects could make an appearance at NCAAs. She was a four-time Idaho state champion in the 100 back and 200 IM and holds the state record in both events.

Genevieve Patterson is the headliner in the breaststroke, coming off a season in which she placed sixth in the 100 breast at the Pac-10 Championships. Her time there of 1:01.33 was the second-fastest in school history and she went on to post the fifth-fastest time ever at UW in the 200 breast at Pac-10s (2:17.06).

After a strong freshman season, Emilee Jennings will look to make an impact in the breaststroke after concentrating mostly on free her rookie year. Hite likes her versatility and sees her adding depth in the fly, back and breast. Freshman Kelly Flynn will also contribute in the breaststroke.

Sophomore Ashley Day will be leading the way in distance free events with Ally Rich, Petra Radovic and Liz Johnson also helping out in the mid-distance and distance events. Daly swam the 10th-fastest time in school history and placed 19th at Pac-10s in the 1650 free with a time of 16:58.20. She also posted the 10th-fastest time in the 1000 free (10:11.34).

Johnson, meanwhile, swam to two top-10 times in the free at Pac-10s, finishing 19th in the 500 free in 4:52.58, the third-fastest time in UW history. She also placed competed in the 200 free at Pac-10s, swimming a personal-best 1:50.48 in the prelims which stands as the seventh-fastest time in school history.

Radovic, who was a part of the 800 free relay team which placed 10th at the NCAA Championships to earn her All-American honors, holds the seventh-fastest time in UW history in the 500 free and stands only to get better as a junior.

The sprint free events are held down by Lindsey Sharp who will also be pushed by sophomore Emilee Jennings. Sharp sits in the top-five all time in all the sprint events after a breakout season in 2007-08. She finished 16th in the 50 free at Pac-10s, swimming the second-fastest time in school history in the prelims (22.93) and had a career day at NCAAs, posting the fifth-fastest times in both the 100 free (50.27) and 200 free (1:49.46).

Jennings showed signs that she will be a dominant force for the Huskies for years to come as she posted top-10 times in two freestyle events. Two freshmen will also look to help out in Amelia Messegee in the sprint free and Kelly Flynn in the mid-distance events.

In the IM, freshman Danielle Gong should make an immediate impact as she was a three-time sectional champion in the 200 IM and qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in the event. Her sister, Jennifer, will also swim the 200 and 400 IM while seniors Shannon Case and Genevieve Patterson add depth to the event along with sophomore Emilee Jennings.

While the men still have work to do to equal the women's team's 12th-place finish at NCAAs, a solid group of returners and strong freshman class look poised to make a run. After leading his team to seven dual-meet victories and coaching individuals to record-breaking performances last season, Hite thinks the 2008-09 season could be a historic one for the men.

The men return 14 letterwinners from last season including four competitors who took part in last summer's U.S. Olympic Trials. A pair of seniors lead the way, with Evan Bernier headlining the freestyle events and fellow senior Jon Banker specializing in backstroke. Bernier broke two school records last season in the 200 free and 200 IM after transferring from Minnesota while also posting the second-fastest time in school history in four other events (50, 100 free, 100 fly, 100 back).

Banker, meanwhile, continued to be as steady as they come, posting three top-20 finishes at Pac-10s while moving up to No. 2 all-time in the 200 back and No. 3 in the 200 IM. He sits in the top 10 in three other events (100 back, 200 fly, 400 IM).

'Jon Banker will be a big leader for this team,' Hite said of the senior who was a captain last season as a junior. 'Evan Bernier will be another leader for us. He's pretty much a superstar.'

Another senior who competed at the Olympic Trials is Scott Spansail, who looks to go out on a high note this season.

'Scott Spansail is our workhorse and I think he can do some pretty good things in the mid-distance events in freestyle,' Hite said. 'He has the potential to have a really great senior year.'

Hit also pointed to a pair of sophomores who made a big impact as rookies. Ben Aaberg posted top-10 times in the 100 and 200 free and 200 IM, including the third-fastest time in the 100 free (44.46). Andre Blyth, meanwhile, finished second at Pac-10s in the 200 fly in school-record time.

'We're excited to see what Ben can do coming back for his sophomore year,' Hite said. 'And Andre was second at Pac-10s in the 200 fly so I think he's poised to continue to get better.'

Hite has recruited a small but solid freshman class, led by freestyler Ryan Shea from Baltimore who won the Maryland state championship in the 200 free three times as well winning state in the 100 free twice. Hunter Roux will contribute in mid-distance and distance free events while Tommy Cunningham looks to make an immediate impact in the free.

'Ryan Shea will surprise some people,' Hite said. 'He's going to be really good and his best swims are ahead of him. We're really excited because we believe he has a lot of potential.'

Hite also sees potential in his other rookies.

'Tommy can come in and help right away. I know he's a hard worker and he can add something to our team,' said Hite. 'Hunter is also a hard worker and can definitely help us at dual meets and he may be ready to make the next step this year.'

Overall, Hite feels that in year three of his reign in Seattle, his philosophies are starting to catch on.

'It's definitely been a shift in culture,' Hite said. 'My expectations are that we are going to strive for excellence in everything we do. That culture for the most part has been accepted and it will continue to grow. It's kind of like a flower. You just have to keep giving it a little bit of love. The expectations are pretty clear though that we want to be excellent, we want to be nationally competitive and we want to be a tough, hard-working team.'

Hite singled out the group of butterfliers as a strength for the Huskies as the team returns two swimmers who posted top-four finishes in butterfly events at the Pac-10 Championships last season.

Leading the group is sophomore Andre Blyth, who finished second at the Pac-10 Championships in the 200 fly in a UW-record setting time of 1:46.01. He also placed 19th at Pac-10s in the 100 fly.

Additionally, junior Erez Fern finished fourth in the 200 fly in 1:46.67. In the prelims for that race he posted the second-fastest time in UW history behind Blyth at 1:46.07.

'We have a great group of guy butterfliers with Andre Blyth and Erez Fern headlining it,' Hite said. 'Jon Banker can help out in the fly as well but having two guys final at Pac-10s in Erez and Andre, they're really good. That's a strength for us.'

With Blyth and Fern holding down the 200 fly, senior Evan Bernier will look to score big points for the Huskies in the 100 fly.

'Evan Bernier is by far out best 100 flyer and he's nationally competitive in that event,' said Hite. 'Butterfly is a really strong event for us.'

The backstroke will be shouldered by senior Jon Banker who will look to add sprint back to his already impressive resume in the 200 back.

Banker placed 16th in the 200 back (1:48.56) at the Pac-10 Championships with his time of 1:47.21 in the prelims setting a new career-best. He also had success last season in the 100 back, winning the event in a dual meet vs. British Columbia and placing seventh out of 32 in the 100 back at the Husky Invitational

The senior - and his coach - hope his experience at the U.S. Olympic Trials this summer will pay big dividends for the Huskies. He already ranks second all-time in the 200 back (1:47.21) and eighth in the 100 back (50.77).

Hite is also excited about his crop of backstrokers, which is led by senior Yonatan Cohen and sophomore Russ Mahan.

Cohen posted one top-10 finish at Pac-10s, placing eighth in the 100 breast (55.05) and also added a 17th-place finish in the 200 breast (1:59.54). His time in the 200 breast is the fourth-fastest in school history.

'This is another good area for us. It's a really solid event,' Hite said. 'John Muir is a flyer and he'll add some depth. Yonatan and Russ will lead the way for us though. They're both really good in the 100 and will get us some speed and help out on relays. Andrew Nguyen could add some depth in 200 breast.'

The Huskies will be balanced in the freestyle events, with senior Scott Spansail leading the way in distance events and fellow senior Evan Bernier leading the way in the sprints.

Bernier tried to single-handedly re-write the Husky record books in the freestyle events, setting a school-record in the 200 free and posting the second-fastest times in the 50 and 100 free. Hite looks for more of the same from his senior. Sophomore Ben Aaberg could also have a breakout season as he posted the third-fastest time in UW history in the 100 free and the sixth-fastest time in the 200 free as a freshman.

'Ben Aaberg may be our best sprinter along with Evan Bernier. Evan can swim everything, whether it's back, fly, IM or free. He's our stud.'

Spansail will hold down the distance events after finishing eighth in the 500 free at Pac-10s and ninth in the 1650. Hite also pointed to the trio of freshmen who contribute in their first year on campus.

'Scott Spansail is going to be a stud in the mid-distance and distance freestyle,' Hite said. 'Ryan Shea will really surprise some people in the 100, 200 and 500 and Hunter Roux is also going to come in and do well in the distance events.'

Hite also hopes to get contributions from Jereme Barnett-Woods, Niko Micin and Anthony Falaniko along with freshman Tommy Cunningham.

Hite is excited about his IMers, mostly because of the versatility of senior Evan Bernier.

'Evan is a really good IMer and Jon Banker and Andrew Nguyen will help out a lot as well,' Hite said. 'Our strengths will be the medley relays which will be really good and our free relays will be really good. Anything Evan decides to swim we'll be good in.'

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