Oct. 10, 2001
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona State women haven't placed in the top-20 at the NCAA Championships since 1995, but that isn't keeping head coach Michael Chasson from shooting for the top-10 this season, his fourth year with the team. Chasson returns four All-Americans and adds a talented group of newcomers that's led by a pair of accomplished international swimmers, making this the most talented team of his career with ASU.
"The women's team is by far the best it's been since I've been here," Chasson said. "It's tough to gage where we'll finish, but we should definitely be a top-20 team this year, no question. If everything went perfectly, we could end up as high as seventh, but placing among the top-15 is certainly achievable. I'm really excited about this team, but it's all going to come down to how well we perform when it counts."
The following is an event-by-event look at the women:
ASU's top sprinters from a year ago return in junior All-American Claire Hedenskog and sophomore Florence Mauro. Hedenskog is undeniably the leader in the sprints, ranking sixth in ASU history in the 50 free (23.64) and third in the 100 free (50.61). Mauro was the second swiftest on the team in both events last year (50 free 24.14, 100 free 51.99). Joining the team is accomplished international sprinter Florencia Szigeti, who will bolster ASU's sprint corps, especially in the 100. Beyond that trio, the Sun Devils have a wealth of versatile swimmers who can fill in at dual meets. Among them is All-American senior Sarah Baham, who is ranked seventh all-time at ASU in the 50 free (23.65), but is also the school record holder in both butterfly events and is ranked in the 400 IM.
Coach Chasson: "We're still thin depth-wise, but we bring back our top sprinter from last year in Claire Hedenskog. Florencia Szigeti could be as good as Claire in the 50 free, but her best events are the 100 and 200 free. She should be able to score at the NCAAs in both of those events. Beyond that, we'll have to count on people like Sarah Baham and Alicia Wheelock (50 free 23.94, 100 free 52.54) to step up at dual meets."
MIDDLE DISTANCE FREESTYLE
Sophomore Brooke Townsend (1:50.40) and senior Amanda Stanford (1:50.91) return after posting ASU's top times of the season in the 200 free last year. However, it is here that the Sun Devils expect a great boost from Florencia Szigeti, who has been Argentina's champion in the 100 and 200 free since 1996. Another newcomer, freshman Claire ?ester will add strength in both the 200 and 500 free.
In the 500 free, Townsend - who placed fourth in the 500 free with the eighth-best time in school history (4:49.04) - will be the leader, with support again from Stanford and junior Katie Titcomb (4:56.35). Another freshman to watch in the 500 free will be Jen Lees.
Coach Chasson: "Florencia can score in the 200 at NCAAs, and that would be a big boost to us. We have a really good group returning in Brooke Townsend, Mandy Stanford and Katie Titcomb, so the middle distance should really be one of our strengths."
Once again, Brooke Townsend and Amanda Stanford represent ASU's top two swimmers from a year ago in the 1000 free and 1650 free. Townsend, who has a best of 10:06.15 in the 1000, swam the 10th-best 1650 time in school history en route to her sixth-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships last year. Stanford is coming off a season in which she set personal bests in both the 1000 (10:07.98) and 1650 (16:50.63). Katie Titcomb and Jen Lees will be looked to for important depth in the distance events.
Coach Chasson: "Brooke Townsend and Amanda Stanford are very versatile in the middle and distance free and can really carry a heavy load for us. Jen Lees coming in is very good in the 500 and 1650, so I'd look for her to make an impact as well. Again, this is an area where we should be fairly strong."
In both backstroke events ASU will feel the loss of Lauren Morelli, who held school records in both events until late last season. Thankfully, the woman who broke Morelli's record in the 100 back with an opening split of 55.22 in the 400 medley relay at the NCAA Championships, is returning in sophomore All-American Miranda Shald. Beyond Shald in the 100 back, the picture in the backstroke events is a little foggy, as it will also need to replace two of its better backstrokers from a year ago in Lindsey Smart and Kelli Sasada. One woman who will be looked upon to emerge quickly in the 200 back is freshman Claire ?ester, who will also be asked to swim the 100. Senior Katie Cuskie will provide additional depth, with well-rounded swimmers Sarah Baham and Alicia Wheelock becoming available in dual meet situations as needed.
Coach Chasson: "Miranda Shald makes us pretty strong in the 100 back, but the 200 back will be one of our thinnest events. Claire ?ester is probably our top incoming swimmer in the 200 back, and Katie Cuskie can add some depth, but beyond that we'll be filling in with some people who will not be competing in their top events."
The Sun Devils look to be well stacked in the breaststroke events, bringing back its top individuals from a year ago and adding to the mix an Olympic champion. Senior captain and All-American Riley Mants ranks second all-time in school history in both the 100 (1:02.44) and the 200 (2:12.47) breast. A season ago she placed 15th in the 200 breast at the NCAAs. Junior Josie Jedick (ninth all-time in ASU history in both events: 100 breast 1:03.81, 200 breast 2:18.20) and senior Jennifer Lowe (100 breast 1:04.54, 200 breast 2:20.57) were ASU's second and third best swimmers in both events a year ago, with Karyl Johnson providing additional depth. All three return this year. Coming in is the 2000 Olympic champion in the 200 breast -- 5th in the 100 breast -- ?gnes Kov?cs of Hungary. Kov?cs was also the bronze medalist in the 200 breast in the 1996 Olympics and at the World Championships won gold in 1998 and 2001. Kov?cs has limited short-course experience, but should be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Coach Chasson: "Breaststroke is going to be a really strong event for us. Riley Mants has been a scorer at the NCAA Championships and Josie Jedick and Jennifer Lowe have scored for us at Pac-10s. Jen has had a really strong summer, so she might have a shot of moving up into NCAA consideration. Then we've got ?gnes Kov?cs coming in who is a potential NCAA Champion in both the 100 and 200 breast. There's a lot of depth here, so we should be pretty good."
ASU returns a seasoned group in the butterfly events, led by senior All-American Sarah Baham. Baham is the school record holder in both the 100 (53.68) and 200 (1:58.22) fly. Joining her will be senior captain Alicia Wheelock. Wheelock is tied for sixth all-time in the 100 fly (56.01), and is within range of the top-10 list in the 200 fly with a best of 2:03.02. Sophomore Florence Mauro had a solid debut last year (100 fly 56.24, 200 fly 2:05.03) and should move up this season. Miranda Shald will also contribute in the 100 fly, where she swam into 9th all-time last year (56.09).
Coach Chasson: "Sarah Baham is an NCAA scorer and school record holder, so we look to her to be our leader. She's had a really good summer, and we're pretty deep with Florence Mauro and Alicia Wheelock behind her. We have some experience here, and that should help make this one of our better events."
Returning talented swimmers like Riley Mants, who is 5th all-time in the 200 IM (2:02.95), and Sarah Baham, who is 10th all-time in the 400 IM (4:24.49), ASU has some experience in the medley events. Freshman Kari Wilcox is a well-rounded swimmer who will contribute most in the 200 IM. The Sun Devils have cause for concern in the 400 IM, lacking depth or a standout swimmer in the event. Sophomore Brianna Patterson and junior Karyl Johnson will need to provide depth in both events.
Coach Chasson: "Sarah Baham is our top IMer returning, but we've got Kari Wilcox coming in. She can swim every other stroke so she'll help in back, fly and sprint freestyle, so we're really excited about that. She can swim the 400 IM as well, but that's not her best event so that's going to be one of our toughest areas this season."
At the 2001 NCAA Championships, the Sun Devil women placed 12th in the 200 medley relay and eighth in the 400 medley relay. All four members of those teams, Miranda Shald, Riley Mants, Sarah Baham and Claire Hedenskog, return this year with an opportunity to boost their standings.
ASU did not qualify for nationals in any of the freestyle relays last year, but are hoping that the additions of Florencia Szigeti and ?gnes Kov?cs will help dramatically, especially in terms of the 400 and 800 relays.
Coach Chasson: "?gnes Kov?cs will be an obvious boost to the medley relays and the freestyles. With ?gnes and Florencia Szigeti, the free relays should be dramatically improved, especially with 800, which should be an NCAA scorer. Hopefully we can have all our relays qualify for NCAAs for the first time since I've been here. We should at least be able to score in the consolation finals of the 400 free and be top-eight in the 800 free and the medleys. That's a very realistic goal for the team."
Gone from last year is Trish Malatesta, the school record holder in the platform. However, ASU's other divers from a year ago return in senior Natalie Burgess and sophomore Jessica Stenson.
Burgess, who accumulated nine dual meet event victories last season, will undoubtedly be the leader after placing eighth in the 3-meter at last year's Pac-10 Championships. Although citing ASU's tough competition in its zone, head diving coach Mark Bradshaw hopes Burgess can be an NCAA qualifier this season.
On a team without depth, Stenson will be required to build off her freshman season, improving her skill in the 3-meter and platform to match her output in the 1-meter.
Coach Bradshaw: "Natalie Burgess can be a great leader for us this year and I think she has the ability to qualify for NCAAs, which is a goal for our team every year. Jessica Stenson has a year under her belt now, and with only two women's divers it's important she has a strong season. Last year she was a little inconsistent, but I expect her to correct that and compete well for us this year."