Swimming & Diving
Men's Swimming & Diving Season Outlook
Oct. 24, 2008
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Much like the women's team, the 2008-09 edition of the MSU men's swimming and diving team will be looking for new faces to step up and lead. After graduating Adam Schmitt, someone head coach Matt Gianiodis called "one of the best swimmers in the history of the program," as well as several other leading seniors, much will be expected of the Spartans' top returners this season.
With several returning Spartans coming off excellent summer performances, Gianiodis knows the ingredients are in place for a solid year in the pool. So long as the hard offseason training and subsequent impressive performances translates into team success, the Spartans will be in good shape.
"We have a very good team and they are quickly understanding what it takes to be successful," Gianiodis added.
Here's an event-by-event breakdown of the 2008-09 Spartans:
The vacancy left by the departed Schmitt in the sprint freestyle events will fall on the shoulders of his younger brother, junior Joe Schmitt, and junior Matt Massman. Last season, Schmitt earned first and second-place finishes in the 50 free against St. Bonaventure and Oakland, respectively. Massman also boasts a quality resume in the sprint freestyle events, taking first place in the 100 free three times in 2007-08.
"We have a couple of freshman that will need to try and make an impact in this event as well," said Gianiodis.
"Middle-distance freestyle at Michigan State has been considered our best event for the last 15 years," Gianiodis said.
The Spartans have scored at least one swimmer in the 200-meter freestyle at the Big Ten Championships every year for the last 11 years.
"These guys are going to have to step in and see if we can keep that streak going and it is not going to be easy to do," Gianiodis said. "The Big Ten is an incredibly strong conference for middle distance freestyle."
With that said, the Spartans will count on juniors Sho Koba and Gabe Strickler to lead the way in these events. Koba, one of the team's more versatile swimmers, posted several top-three finishes last season in multiple events. He won the 200 free at Penn State and also registered top-three finishes against Iowa in the 100 and 200 free evetnts.
Strickler is not only one of the team's hardest working student-athletes, but he is one of the most talented as well. His strength last season was in the IM and back events, but he will be counted on to make his presence known in the middle distance free events.
Freshman Mark Schramm comes to East Lansing with a host of accolades after swimming at Monroe High School. He was a four-time All-America and All-State selection and was the state champion in the 200 free as a junior.
Unlike last season when MSU was untested in the distance freestyle, this year's squad expects the events to be a real strength. Four returning swimmers with significant experience - and success - figure to be the reason for the turnaround.
"I think we are really, really strong in the distance events," Gianiodis said. "With Colby Ward, Kris Olszewski, Michael VanBeek and Ricky Forrest, we have guys that can compete on the national level in these events."
It didn't take long for Ward to show his talents, as he took second in the 1,000 free in his first collegiate meet last season. Ward picked up wins in the 500 and 1,000 free later in the season and together with a strong offseason, the Spartans expect him to be an even greater force this season.
"Colby had a very good summer and I'm anticipating that he is only going to get better," remarked Gianiodis. "He has done really well for us."
Olszewski is another Spartan who improved over the summer after turning in a solid season as a junior that saw him register two first-place finishes in the distance events.
VanBeek, one of the team's hardest workers, and Forrest, a promising sophomore, also expect to contribute to the distance freestyle corps' success. Like Ward, it didn't take long for Forrest to taste success in the collegiate ranks, touching the wall first in two events in his first meet.
While MSU may lack depth in the breaststroke events, the individuals that compete in the events may be the team's strongest swimmers. Both Marcus Poteete and kevin Puskaric were the only MSU swimmers to compete at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb.
"Kevin is an incredible athlete and great all-around kid," Gianiodis said. "He has had some awesome accomplishments and I'm really proud of him."
As a freshman last season, Puskaric placed sixth in the 200 breaststroke at the Big Ten Championships and picked up seven first place finishes - five of which were in the breaststroke - during the year.
Both Poteete and Puskaric are also a part of the 200 IM team.
Cam Bartlett brings an impressive high school resume to MSU, having won the New York state championship in the 100 breast his sophomore and senior seasons. The high school All-American should make an immediate impact in the breaststroke events.
Again this season, the Spartans will lean on the capable shoulders of Poteete to carry the butterfly events.
"I think going into the season, making the NCAA Championships is a realistic goal for him," said Gianiodis. "He had a great summer and took almost a full second off his time. He has done really well here and I'm very proud of him. Marcus is a true Michigan State success story." As a junior, Poteete earned the Jason Vadney Men's Spartan of the Year award and recorded several top-three finishes.
Forrest will also be counted on in the butterfly to score some points. Last season, he twice placed first in the 200 fly.
The Spartans have strong talent in the backstroke and, as always, their success in the events will hinge on the performance of those swimmers. Junior John LaRocque and Strickler will be swimmers to which MSU will look to carry the load.
"Gabe and John key our success," Gianiodis said. "We have to get something from them."
LaRocque, a Bay City, Mich. native, and Strickler both had first-place finishes in the 200 back last year. Both were also key components in the success of the 200 medley relay team.
"John is going to help us in the sprints," Gianiodis said. "He had a nice summer and turned in his best times and was close to making his Olympic Trial cut in the 100."
With the team returning so many swimmers from last season, familiar faces such as LaRocque, Strickler, Poteete and Puskaric will step in as the lead corps in the 200 IM. While Gianiodis admits the IM "isn't necessarily an area of strength for us," the Spartans have several swimmers capable of making an impact in the event.
Olszewski and Forrest will swim the 400 IM.
Former walk-on David Garry returns for his junior year and will be counted on heavily by the Spartans. Despite diving through a knee problem last season, Garry posted three wins on the one and three-meter boards.
"After having surgery, hopefully, he comes back even stronger," Gianiodis said.
Ivan Zalessov returns after a solid sophomore campaign. Zalessov had three first-place finishes on the one-meter board as well as four top-three finishes on the three-meter board. After a strong summer, diving coach Eric Best and the Spartans expect an even stronger year.
"He did a lot of good training over the summer," Best said. "His diving list on one meter now is the most difficult list that anyone is doing in competition."
Unlike the women's team schedule, the men's schedule is a bit less balanced. With two less dual meets during the season, the emphasis will be on the bigger meets.
"The focus for the men's team will the invitationals and the Big Ten Championship," said Gianiodis.
After opening the season on the road at Illinois (Oct. 16-17), the Spartans return home to take on Iowa (Oct. 25). MSU will also host dual meets against Ball State, Michigan and Purdue, while facing Grand Valley State, North Carolina State and Oakland on the road.
The Spartans will compete in two invitationals, the Northwestern Invitational, hosted by Notre Dame, Nov. 21-23, and the Shamrock Invitational, Jan. 23-24.
The Big Ten Championships will be hosted by Purdue, Feb. 26-28.
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