Oct. 8, 2003
TEMPE, Ariz. -- With their 10th-place finish at last year's NCAAs, the women secured their first back-to-back national top-10 finishes since the 1989 and 1990 seasons. And with 18 letterwinners coming back, including seven All-Americans, the Sun Devils are looking to finish the 2004 season even higher.
"Overall I think we're going to be a better team," says head swimming coach Michael Chasson. "I'm hoping team-wise, that with the freshmen coming in, we can be a higher placing team. I'd like to see us move up a couple places."
With both the swimming and diving sides boasting an abundance of talent and experience, that goal seems within reach.
The following is an event-by-event look at the women:
The graduation of Claire Hedenskog-the fastest 50 free swimmer in ASU history and a top-eight finisher at last year's NCAAs- is a big blow to the sprinting core, but the return of Florencia Szigeti and the introduction of a bevy of newcomers should allow the Sun Devils to hold form here. Szigeti is second all-time in the 50 free (23.23) and is the school record-holder in the 100 (49.73) so she will undoubtedly lead the team in the sprints. She's also coming off of a summer that saw her win a silver medal at the Pan Am Games in the 100m free and set a South American record, so her international experience will only add to the team's strengths.
Coach Chasson: "Certainly losing Claire is tough, but Florencia had a great summer and we're looking for her pop in there in the 50. Florence Mauro should be faster. We have Abra Armour coming in and Jill Kripps so they will hopefully step into the sprint and fill some voids, as well as other people improving.
"In the100, Florencia is back and her great summer showed she is one of the best in the world. The other people like Abra come in with great credentials. We should hold our own in the sprint freestyle."
Middle Distance Freestyle
Looking at the 200, one would think the strength there probably could not get any better. The top two 200 freestylers in school history return in Petra Banovic (1:47.59) and Florencia Szigeti (1:47.86), while Sandra Steffensen comes in ninth all-time (1:48.95). All five of last year's top performers in the 500 are here in '03-'04 with Petra Banovic (4:49.98) and Sandra Steffensen (4:52.10) leading the way.
Coach Chasson: "For the 200 free, Florencia and Petra are back, they are our top 200 freestylers. Sandra is our next best freestyler, she's back. They all trained hard, so I'm looking for that distance to be a lot better. In the 500 free, Petra is back, Sandra is back; they're going to be better and I look for Jen Lees to swim better here."
Kathryn Hennessy is the leader in both distance events and comes in number five in the ASU record books for the 1650 (16:25.53) after her effort at the NCAAs, which placed her 14th. Jen Lees will also be a factor in the mile. In the 1000, Petra Banovic also has some experience (10:08.80) with Melissa Bartlett and Jen Lees looking to shore up the ranks for this distance only swum in dual meets.
Coach Chasson: "Kathryn Hennessy is back, she should be better. Kathryn is our top returning miler, she scored at the NCAAs. I look for Jen Lees to swim a lot better in the mile. I think we're going to be better overall in those events."
Backstroke is an area that should be a level above where it was last season and the team returns all performers that were in the top five from last year in these events. Although she was swimming away from her preferred freestyle, Florencia Szigeti swam some back last year and now stands fourth all-time at ASU in the 100 (55.92) and can certainly give help here. But with her focusing more on freestyle, Erin Baldinger and Kari Wilcox will be looked to for strong performances. In the 200, Petra Banovic is back, the seventh-fastest all time at ASU (2:01.28), with Wilcox, Baldinger and Melissa Bartlett giving support. The addition of newcomers Carissa Abe and Amanda Gillespie only further bolsters the ranks.
Coach Chasson: "We brought in two backstrokers because Florencia ended up swimming a lot of our backstroke last year. I'd like to have her swim more free. We have Erin Baldinger who had a great summer in the 100 back. We have good swimmers coming in in Carissa Abe in the 100 back and Amanda Gillespie in the 200 back. They can help us a lot so this is going to be a better event."
As one of the best breaststrokers in the world, junior ?gnes Kov?cs naturally leads the team in this event. The 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist in the 200m breast finished third last season at the NCAAs in the 200 and fourth in the 100 while also winning the 200m breast at the ConocoPhillips US Spring National Championships. Add to that another year of experience in top-level international swimming and there may not be a better swimmer to have leading off your breaststroke contingent. Behind her are returners Courtney Caples (100 - 1:05.73; 200 - 2:20.96) and Brianna Patterson (100 - 1:06.36; 200 - 2:18.78), with highly touted freshman Christine Creek coming to Tempe to add support here and maybe even challenge for a spot once the conference and national championships come around.
Coach Chasson: "?gnes Kov?cs is back, that's good. Christine Creek, a freshman, is a very good breaststroker, she'll move right up there in breaststroke, she should be in the NCAAs. Brianna Patterson had a great summer in breaststroke and she should help a lot, she did well at Pac-10s last year and continued that into the summer so that should be good. Overall I think that breaststroke will be better."
An area where the Sun Devils hold a lot of promise is in the butterfly. Florence Mauro, the fifth-fastest 100 butterflyer in school history (55.19), should be back to form after being below 100% for most of last season. Sarah Fischer (56.09) returns as the top swimmer in the 100 alongside of Mauro, with Laura Ullrich steadily improving after one year of collegiate competition already under her belt. Petra Banovic is back is back in the 200 and is the third-fastest swimmer of all-time in this event at ASU (2:00.04).
Coach Chasson: "I'm looking for Florence Mauro to have a better year. She was injured last year and helped on relays, but we're looking for her to be a bigger factor. Amanda Gillespie swam some really good fly this summer so she'll be a factor. Petra can swim really good butterfly, we discovered that as the season went along so she can step up in there. So I think fly overall can be better at the beginning of the year than it was at the end of last year."
The Individual Medleys are also events that feature ?gnes Kov?cs as the leader. The school record holder in both the 200 (1:58.13) and the 400 (4:10.77), she is coming off of a spring and summer that saw her finish second at the US Spring National Championships in the 200 IM, win the event at the Hungarian National Championships and finish sixth at the World Championships in Barcelona. As one of the best in the world at the 200, she will focus her energies there, with Petra Banovic (2:02.16) and Kari Wilcox (2:02.52) also in the lineup as the fifth- and sixth-fastest in ASU history respectively. Needless to say, the 200 IM is rich with talent.
Wilcox, the ninth-fastest in ASU history in the 400 (4:20.71), and Banovic (4:21.97) look to lead in the 400, with Brianna Patterson shoring up the ranks.
Coach Chasson: "?gnes Kov?cs got sixth at the World Championships in the 200m IM and she's excited about the IM more so than she has been so that's a plus. Amanda Gillespie swims well in the IM, Christine Creek swims well in the IM and Kari Wilcox is coming off of mono and we hope she'll be healthy and step up in both the freestyle and the IM and make a big difference. Petra did a good job this summer in the IM, so there are a lot of possibilities."
Both the 200 and 400 free relays set school records last campaign behind the efforts of Florencia Szigeti, Florence Mauro, Petra Banovic and Claire Hedenskog. Although Hedenskog is gone, with three of those four back at better strength that last year, there are great possibilities for the sprint relays.
The 800 free relay has everyone back-Banovic, Szigeti, Sandra Steffensen and Kari Wilcox-from the second-fastest relay in the ASU record books with a 7:17.96. The medley events could feature Szigeti at freestyle, ?gnes Kov?cs at breast and Florence Mauro at fly with the backstroke left open to question.
Coach Chasson: "In the 200 free relay, I hope that we can hold our own. In the 400 free relay we'll be at least as good, and that was very good. I'm not saying we'll be a lot better, but if we can do what we did last year that would be great. The 800 free relay will be significantly better I feel and the medley relays will be better, so I think we'll move up."
From top to bottom, the Sun Devils have the best women's diving lineup since Mark Bradshaw arrived here as head coach over six seasons ago. Qualifying two divers to the NCAAs is a reachable goal, with Trisha Tumlinson leading the team after placing third at the NCAAs on platform and earning Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year honors. With her focus not only on the collegiate season but also the Olympic Trials in 2004, her determination for the upcoming year is intense.
Jessica Stenson is the diving squad's lone senior and her steady improvement over her first three years could point to a trip to the NCAAs. Junior Nicole Zukowski and freshmen Kristin Littell and Cassidy Farwell round out the deep contingent that will challenge for a top spot at the Pac-10s and beyond.
Coach Bradshaw: "We have a few people in our conference who are sitting out this year, training for the Olympic Trials specifically, so that opens the door to all of my women to have a better shot at qualifying for the NCAAs.
"You can do all the prognostication that you want, but you have to get to the meet. Trisha's thing is that she's been good on the 1m and platform, but she's had a little hole on the 3m. It's not because she's not good at the 3m. We're putting a little added emphasis on doing better on 3m with her.
"Kristin Littell was highly recruited out of high school and she'll be in her first year of competition now, so we expect a lot out of her. Jessica has just gotten better every year, she's stepped up every year and improved herself. She just missed making the NCAAs last year and we've set a goal for the big meet. Nicole Zukowski came into the program and is another one who has continued to improve. With our newcomer Cassidy Farwell, I have high expectations for her. She's got the ability to go as far as she wants."