Sept. 24, 2008
Head Swimming and Diving Coach Christopher Ip enters his seventh season at the helm for the Tigers and is coming off of one of the more impressive campaigns, having won 12 dual meets and six ACC contests. However, it is difficult to overstate just how much the senior class accomplished in their time with Clemson. The squad graduated 29 of Clemson’s all-time top ten swims in every event, including five school record-holders. And although 13 seniors graduated from last season, Ip’s cupboard is far from bare and he relishes the challenge that awaits.
The 2008-09 team is very young, but Ip is extremely encouraged by the freshman class, which ranked as the #20 incoming class according to collegeswimming.com. The most recent edition will rely heavily on the team’s ability to gel and for each student-athlete to commit to give his best effort in every race in which he competes.
Says Ip, “Although swimming is generally an individual sport, I love this kind of year. We graduated a big group of seniors and last year we went on auto-drive. This is the kind of year that we HAVE to be a team. Everyone needs to be part of the team and they need to bond together.”
Certainly the 2008-09 will show a different look from a season ago, which was one of the elite sprinting teams in the ACC. In fact, four Tigers finished in the top nine in the 50 free and 100 free a season ago. This team’s strength will be in the distance free and the specialty strokes. The aforementioned freshman class will be able to contribute immediately and will be thrown directly into a high level of competition.
“It is important to make sure that these guys know that they can make an immediate impact on this program, and that’s where upperclassmen come in,” said Ip. “We are forcing our upperclassmen and our freshmen to mold together to be a team. And with the potential that this group has, we could be poised for a very successful year. “
FREESTYLE The seniors on the 2007-08 team accounted for four of the top seven 50 free swims in Clemson history, including school record-holder Mark Vahle. Freshman Trey Charlton will get action as well, and the rest of the group will be freshmen. Chris Dart has a career-best of 21.16, and Chris Reinke and Lee Groseclose will also see early action. The Tigers could conceivably have all freshmen on both their 200 and 400 free relay, each of which graduated all four swimmers from their school-record races a season ago.
The 100 free will be another young group, led again by Oliver, Reinke, Groseclose, and Dart. Each will have an immediate opportunity to get work in against some of the best teams in the nation. Departed senior Adam Farnham took the ACC bronze medal last season, posting a 44.01, second best in Clemson history. Additionally, the third and fifth best 100 free swimmers in Clemson history have graduated.
Moving into the mid-distance free, the Tigers have a good bit of experience. Senior Dan Mengering is ninth on Clemson’s all-time list in the 200 free, and senior Brian Possee’s top time is only a tenth of a second form the top ten all-time. Freshman David Gordon will provide depth as well. The duo of Mengering and Gordon are also a part of the Tigers’ school-record holding 800 free relay.
Gordon leads the distance free group, ranking fifth in Clemson history in the 500 free and seventh all-time in the 1650 free. Mengering is capable of scoring in the 500 free as well. The rest of the group will be comprised of freshmen. Will Clark is one of the top distance swimmers entering the team and along will Groseclose and Alex Carr, will compose a young, but talented unit. The distance free can develop into a major strength for the Tigers provided that the freshmen work to their potential and commit to improving each day.
BUTTERFLY The butterfly group is a unit to watch in the 2008-09 season, as there is a good mix of veteran and rookie at both the 100 and 200. Three of the top seven 100 fliers in Clemson history are gone, making way for a younger group of competitors. Junior Jason Chatlosh and sophomore Joe Knecht will lead the unit. Freshmen Seth Broster and Harry Foster and Groseclose have all been under 51 seconds as well and could end up being a pleasant surprise come championship time.
The 200 fly is one of the Tigers’ strengths. Both Dan Mengering and Brian Possee’s will bolster the group which can get into the top-16 and score points for the Tigers down the road.
BACKSTROKE The backstroke is one of the few units not impacted heavily by graduation. The group will surely miss fifth-year grad student Jason Chatlosh at the ACC championships.
The Tigers will unveil their highly touted freshman, Chris Dart, in this unit. Dart’s career best would already put him as the fastest time of any active Tiger and sixth in Clemson history. He finished in the top-eight in the British Olympic Trials in the 100 back, as he is a dual citizen. Junior Tom Recko is ranked seventh in Tiger history in the 100 back as well. By the end of the season, the 100 back group will be one of the most productive on the whole team.
The 200 back could also be a strength, as Recko competed in Olympic Trials for the US and placed fifth in the ACC a season ago. He is ranked second in Clemson history in the event. Freshman Will Clark could be one to watch here, as he made junior national cuts in this stroke in late 2007. Dart will also give the Tigers a legitimate top-eight threat in the ACC and a potential for an NCAA appearance.
BREASTSTROKE The breaststroke was strongly impacted by graduation as the top-two 100 breast swimmers in Clemson history and two of the top seven in the 200 breast are gone. Senior Captain Eric Lane will anchor the group. His lifetime best of 56.08 in the 100 ranks eighth in Clemson history. Sophomore Kyle Shoemaker is poised to make his mark in the 100 breast. Chase Henderson, a freshman, will pose a legitimate threat in both the 100 and 200 to score at the ACC championships. Chris Reinke can also provide depth in this spot.
INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY Matt Angelini will look to pick up this group where they left off. Angelini ranks tied for sixth in Clemson history in the 200 IM, with a lifetime best of 1:50.38. Dart’s career best of 1:50.43 is nothing to overlook either. He gives the Tigers two legitimate top-eight scorers in the 200 IM. Will Clark will aid Angelini in the 400 IM, and sophomore Joe Knecht is a legitimate threat to score in both events.
The medley relays are a bit of an unknown. With each stroke individually, the Tigers can pose a problem for many teams. Last season’s group ranked third in Clemson history in the 200 and graduated three from the 400 that ranked second in Tiger history. Look for Ip to try different combinations as he tries to hit the nail on the head for championship season.
DIVING Diving Coach David Giambra returns and transfer Ryan McDaniel will be in his first season with the Tigers. McDaniel dove at the United States Military Academy and finished in the top-eight in the Patriot League in his freshman season. He then spend the next two years closer to home at the University of Texas-San Antonio, before transferring to Clemson.
“David trained all summer and performed in diving shows all summer and learned how to be a daredevil, which will be helpful to him. He is a true competitor. Ryan is going to be a little bit of a surprise. It will be fun to see how he competes. He is very much a perfectionist, so we may need to take him out of that a little bit, but he is definitely ready.”
Giambra will be the leader, as he scored in the ACC and set the school record on the three-meter board and is within 15 points of the one-meter board. He is only a junior and still has a lot of development. McDaniel is the wild card, and can really help the team on the boards.
“Overall, the men’s program comes back very seasoned with a lot of collegiate experience and they are both confident young men, which could bring upon a turn in the ACC. We have some extremely tough competition in the ACC, and I am encouraged by their response so far. I think together they can push each other and become great teammates and help this team achieve its goals.
OVERALL Ip is calling on his 2008-09 team to come together and really push themselves as a team. There will be a lot of new faces contributing immediately and Ip will challenge the student-athletes right form the first meet.
“Last year the men felt that they needed to do their small part. They need to expand their horizon, and say, `not only am I going to succeed in my first event, but I need to help the team in my second or third event.'”
Because of the strength of leadership a season ago, Ip thinks that the student-athletes may not have truly pushed themselves to be the best they can be in every race. “We graduated a big group of seniors and last year we went on auto-drive a bit. We relied on that group to pull us trough and they performed at a very high level.”
The top 20 recruiting class will certainly help dull the blow of the lost seniors, but will certainly not replace them. Yet, the new student-athletes will bring new skills and immediately upgrade the overall talent at each hole. They will be a strong foundation for seasons to come as Clemson continues to progress.
Very infrequently does a team have a total shift in strength as the 2008-09 team will. The 2007-08 team had strength in experience and were very deep in the sprint free, fly, and breast groups. This team will find strength in its youth and will likely be strong in the distance free, backstroke, and IM.
The squad is an interesting mix of youth and experience, which could prove valuable in the long run. The Tigers have a lot of potential but they have to work hard to achieve optimal results in a hotly contested ACC. Coach Ip has worked hard to create a culture that promotes sportsmanship.
“If a student-athlete comes to Clemson and invests in our program, then we invest in them and we build. I think if you see what we’ve done, our students coming in are succeeding academically,” said Ip. “Hopefully you see that we are building a solid program that is a stepping stone for each program afterward and we look out for the total student all the way around.”
This team will face the challenge of going forward into the unknown and coming together as a team and trusting the coaching staff and upperclassmen to pull them through what could be a surprising season.
“I want the team to have an open mind and be willing to step up to another level. I am afraid sometimes that our student-athletes compare themselves to last year, and I want them to come in with an open mind and be willing to try new things. I want them to get out of a comfort zone and ask `what’s next?’ If this team is willing to open up their mind and try new things with their new coaching staff and take a step forward into the unknown and that will be what makes us successful this year.”
July 27, 2021