Oct. 28, 2009
After losing six seniors last year, the Arizona State men's swimming team is working hard on rebuilding the tradition that is Sun Devil swimming. With newcomers making up more than 50 percent of the team, the team looks to be talented yet inexperienced. Due to the potential of the talent, the coaching staff is extremely positive about the future of the program.
"I am very, very enthusiastic and optimistic about the direction the program is going," said associate head coach Simon Percy. "With over half the team new this year and a brand new coaching staff, we are definitely in the rebuilding phase. The work is getting done and the team is developing and responding very well. Due to this, I think we will have a much better presence at the NCAA Championships this season."
The freestyle sprint team is stocked with raw talent the coaching staff is delighted to sculpt. The team will be led by Wayne State transfer Jesper Akesson, who earned seven Division II All-American honors last season. Along with Akesson, senior Brian Anderson and freshmen Jake Brown and Jake Lehman are also expected to contribute.
"The nice thing about Jesper is that while he was fast last year, he is still a raw talent. Once we develop his skill work, we will see some good results," said associate head coach Simon Percy. "Both freshmen Jake Brown and Jake Lehman have a lot of athletic talent and Brian took a year off swimming but should be able to contribute. The sprint squad is very young and needs a lot of work, but the talent is there."
While the sprint free will be a work in progress, the Sun Devils expect their strength to be in the middle distance free. Xavier Mohammed, who entered the record-books last season despite only competing at the Pac-10 Championships, looks to lead the squad. Along with Mohammed, freshman Caleb Veazey will also make an impact in the middle distance events. Veazey was one of the few high school athletes to final at the USA World Championship Trials last season. Sean Niccolucci and Grayson Repp both are expected to develop into strong middle-distance swimmers over the course of the year. Along with the newcomers, Nolan Ruane and Adrian Kirkpatrick both worked hard over the summer to drop their times.
"We expect Xavier to final at the NCAA Championships. He has that kind of potential, work ethic, drive and ambition," said Percy. "Caleb is going to be very strong for us and we are expecting very good things from Sean and Grayson. Returning, we have Adrian who took leaps and bounds over the last year while Nolan brings a lot of experience and hard work to the group."
Along with middle distance, Veazey also looks to lead the distance group. Niccolucci is also expected to make an impact in the longer events. Both freshmen will be supported by Derek Knittle and Anthony Calenti, who will additionally be called on to swim in the distance events.
"Caleb is going to be very competitive in dual meets. He is a very hard worker and has a real driving desire to win," said Percy. "Sean has the same qualities, he just needs a bit more development and being in the Pac-10 will help with that. We will have a lot of depth in both the freestyle distance and middle distance events."
The Sun Devils also look to be strong in the individual medley events. As he is expected to in many of the events, the Sun Devils own utility man, Mohammed, will lead the Sun Devils in the 200 and 400 IM. Despite only competing in one meet last season, Mohammed is already ranked ninth in the 200 IM. Senior Max Laney has also developed into a good IM swimmer and will help the Sun Devils in the 200 IM. James Rigg and Joey Wasko will also add depth to the IM events.
Backstroke will be another strong event led by the dynamic duo of Mohammed and Laney. Mohammed etched his name at fourth on ASU's 200 back top 10 list while Laney is only two spots behind Mohammed at sixth. Wasko will also help provide depth for the Sun Devils.
"Max dropped a lot of time last year and just continues to get faster and faster," said Percy. "Xavier's strongest individual event is backstroke and I feel like he has the potential to score very highly at the NCAA Championships."
In the butterfly, the Sun Devils will look to junior transfer James Rigg to be their leader. Rigg, who was named All-Conference while at Wyoming, will be joined by sophomore Yutaro Yamashita, who had a successful freshman season last year.
Like the sprint freestyle, the breaststroke looks to be a bit of a weaker event for the Sun Devils. Akesson and Stephen Estes will help the team in the sprint breast events while Willy Hopper and Derek Knittle will compete in the longer ones. The Sun Devils also have Julius Schmidt, who is forced to sit out this season due to an NCAA rule. Once he is eligible to compete, Schmidt looks to be a force to be reckoned with in the breaststroke events.
"Jesper is probably going to be our breaststroker on the relays," said Percy. "Stephen needs some development, but he is working very hard and doing a good job."
With their strength in the middle distance events, the Sun Devils look to be the strongest in the 800 free relay. Percy expects it to be a battle for a spot on that relay team, with the competition helping improve the team.
"We have six or seven guys fighting for that relay and I feel like it could be very strong and could score very well for us," said Percy.
In the sprint freestyle relays, Percy expects the Sun Devils to be a little stronger in the 400 free relay. With the number of freshmen on the team, Percy foresees the relay improving over time. He also feels the same way about the two medley relays.
"The 400 free relay can be a good relay for us once the freshmen put in a good year and get a little bigger, faster and stronger," said Percy. "I am excited about where our relays can be in the future."