Oct. 1, 2007
The 2007-08 season will be an exciting one for the Clemson Women’s Swimming and Diving team. The Tigers have a unique combination of depth, experience, and speed that promises to leave other teams in their wake. The team won 10 meets last season, tied for second-best in school history. Their four conference victories in 2006-07 were also good for second all-time. The team has improved its ACC meet standing each of the past three seasons.
Although there are only seven seniors on the roster, the 2007-08 team is far from inexperienced. Head Swimming and Diving Coach Chris Ip is extremely encouraged about what he sees with this group. “The Senior class is small, but it is very strong and has a very good personality.” The team is loaded in the middle classes, with 13 sophomores and 12 juniors. Of this group, there are six swimmers who are already in Clemson’s All-Time Top 10, including junior Michelle Parkhurst who is the school record holder in the 100 and 200 backstroke.
Leadership is present in all directions because the team is so mature and has been brought up through positive experiences. The team has chosen three captains, senior Peg Carter, and juniors Rachel Regone and Ashley Clay, to lead them to the top of the ACC. Says Ip, “Peg had an injury last year, and she’s very hungry to come back and lead the team. She was a great leader last season, even with the injury. Ashley Clay is really starting to believe in herself as a swimmer and as a leader. Rachel Regone is a school record holder for us and has done a great job in the classroom and I expect her to be a strong leader as well.” With such solid leaders in place, the Tigers promise to have terrific team unity.
The Tigers pride themselves on chemistry, a vital part of a long season. This season could feature one of the most cohesive teams that Ip has ever seen. “I’m excited about the team chemistry. This year we have a group that respect each other and know each other very well. The upperclassmen have already welcomed in the freshman class via email and letters. I think the chemistry is just outstanding.”
Team chemistry is never understated with Ip, especially for the length of the upcoming season, which can be taxing on the athletes. “Chemistry is especially important for the freshman. It is a huge transition from high school because they have to be on every single meet. Having the support of the upperclassmen, the support as a family, and being part of the team is going to help to prepare them for success, and to do well in the class and the pool.”
This leadership and chemistry should help the eight incoming freshman, who will be expected to contribute significantly as soon as they step on campus. The Tigers have some impressive athletes joining the team this season, including Margaret Mizzelle, whose time in the 200 butterfly is only a few tenths of a second shy of Olympic Trial cuts.
A key point, however, is that none of the incoming freshman are divers. Head Diving Coach Leslie Hasselbach explains why this may give Clemson an advantage in the upcoming season: “Without freshman divers we’re going to be able to push right from the get-go. The women know what to expect from me, my coaching style, and my expectations. It will be good to be able to move forward right off the bat, rather than having to start at the beginning.”
With members from each class contributing, the Tigers have outstanding depth in virtually every event. Clemson will be attempting to break into the top tier of the ACC and aims to be strong all the way through the season.
Freestyle The freestyle events should be one of the Tigers’ biggest strengths this season, from the 50 yard sprints to the grueling 1650. The loss of senior Kallie Deters will hurt initially, but there is a very strong unit to step in her place. Leading the sprints will be Rachel Regone, who is the school record-holder in the 50 free and fourth in Clemson history in the 100 free. Regone will be joined by Michelle Parkhurst, who both rank in the top 10 in Clemson history in the 50 free. Alex Allen, a transfer from Rutgers University, will be able to step in right away as well, and should put the record-holding relay team ahead of where they were last year, which was first in Clemson history.
As the distance of the events increases, so does the depth. The Tigers are loaded in the mid-distance events, led by Parkhurst and fellow juniors Toni Kroll, Cassy LaRussa, and Summer O’Donnell, as well as sophomore Mandy Snell and freshman Sarah Smith. LaRussa already ranks amongst the Clemson greats in the 200, 500, 1000, and 1650 free events. Ip predicts that Kroll and O’Donnell will turn some heads this year, and their past results have shown that they are dangerous. Transfer Lauren Cranston, who swam very well in distance events for NC State last season, will make the distance unit one of the ACC’s elite.
The freestyle relay teams should compete for national attention in 2007-08. The team of Regone, Sindall, Parkhurst, and Allen will look to improve on last season’s time, which earned them the top spot in Clemson history in the 200 free relay. That 2006-07 relay squad also set the ACC meet record in the 200 freestyle relay and is the current pool-record holder at North Carolina’s Koury Natatorium. They also earned valuable NCAA meet experience, which can propel them into national prominence. Also, with their strength and depth, the Tigers will compete for an ACC title in the 400 and 800 relays.
Backstroke The Tigers will be nothing short of spectacular when they hit the water for the 100 and 200 backstroke. Parkhurst already holds school records in both the 100 and 200, and the rest of the squad has shown that they are ready to compete along with her. Captain Ashley Clay is expected to make a splash in both events. Casey Kroll should also add depth, having recorded the third-fastest time in the 200 back for Clemson in 2006-07. Freshmen Eleanor LeClair and Cecily Shaw can compete for points right away and will make names for themselves quickly.
Breaststroke Sophomore Katrina Obas is ready to shine. Obas put her name into the Clemson record books by posting top-three times in both the 100 and 200 breast as a freshman. Ip says of Obas, “She should really be ready to step it up this year. This summer she’s already made the Canadian Olympic Trial cuts, so she should be ready to go.” The staff is counting on freshman Elizabeth Savage to provide depth in the 100 and 200 and Sindall will help in the 100 breast. Carmen Groenewoud will definitely factor into the team’s success in the breaststroke, and her performance can help drive the Tigers to the top of the ACC.
Butterfly Although the Tigers’ butterfly group will miss departed senior Sarah Cefalu’s presence in the water, this group can really fly. Senior Jen Grove made her way to sixth on the all-time list in the 100 fly last season and hopes to improve on that in 2007-08. She will be joined by Clay, Allen, Snell, and LeClair.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the butterfly could be freshman Margaret Mizelle. Her personal best time in the 200 would rank in Clemson’s top four all-time. Mizelle will be expected to contribute in a big way for the Tigers this season. The Tigers should turn in solid results throughout the events and will be led by Captain Peg Carter, who will provide invaluable leadership and poise to this unit.
Individual Medley The Tigers’ IM group is deep for 2007-08. Katrina Obas swam the fourth-fastest time in Clemson history in the 200 IM as a freshman, and with her summer work, is ready to move up. Casey Kroll will be a factor, having recorded the fastest time for the Tigers in the 400 IM last season. Elizabeth Savage will figure strongly in the 200 IM. Rachel Hesler will be able to provide depth through these events and should show a noticeable improvement from last season.
This group will likely surprise some teams this season and be a strength for the Tigers down the stretch. A key aspect of this group is also its strength in the relays, as all but one athlete from returns from last season’s 200 and 400 medley relay squads.
Diving The Tiger divers will be expected to contribute from the first meet. There are no freshmen for Coach Leslie Hasselbach, which will allow her team to start out in high gear. Danielle Kazilionis will lead the group as the school’s top scorer in both the one and three meter event. Hasselbach is excited, saying, “Danielle really stepped up last year and became the leader. She’s worked really hard, and I can see her competing very well at the ACC Championships and into the NCAA meet.” Stephanie Fura competed most of last season at less than 100 percent, but is now completely healthy and will be a huge part of the success of the team in 2007-08.
Hasselbach cites experience as the strength of the squad and is interested to see how the athletes react to not having anyone to take under their wing, hoping it will enable them to focus on their dives. “I expect to have at least two women in the final at ACC’s. We have a lot of returnees, and it should be a big competition. We haven’t had two women finish in the top eight in awhile, but I think it’s very possible this year. Danielle and Stephanie are really starting to believe in their abilities and are now finding out what they are capable of.”
Add to the equation Ali Zacker, who scored well last year, and the Tigers should make a splash off of the boards. Diving is very important to the Tigers, and the performance of the 2007-08 squad will enable Clemson to push through into the upper echelon of the ACC as a program.
The Tigers have several strong events for the 2007-08 season and the squad and can really push limits in every area. Hasselbach notes, “The women have already bought into the program, they know what it takes to get to the top. They’ve formed a loyalty and a bond to the program, and they’ve set high goals within themselves.”
Ip is equally enthusiastic, saying, “We are ready to start knocking on the door. We want to get into the top-25 and I think we can really make some noise at the NCAA meet. We’re ready to move up. I can feel it talking with the sophomores and juniors. They are coming into the office during the off-season asking us what they can do to step it up.”
Look for the Clemson Women’s Swimming and Diving team to have a strong season in 2007-08. They feature a unique blend of leadership, talent, and depth that will thrust them into the ACC’s elite and compete for national recognition.
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