Sept. 24, 2008
Head Swimming and Diving Coach Christopher Ip knows exactly what he is going to get from his 2008-09 women’s squad: proven leaders, record-breaking times, and a team chemistry among the best he’s ever seen. The team is highlighted by a class of nine seniors, including the 2008 ACC Swimmer of the Meet. The large senior class will be key to the success of the 2008-09 team.
“Our seniors have taken ownership,” said Ip. “It has been a long four years. When they first came in, our staff was worried about how they might adapt to the level of competition and academics, and they have responded in their GPAs and other accomplishments. They have seen our program progress and they really want to see us succeed this season. They really want to see how far they can move this program up before they leave.”
The 2007-08 team reached many new levels in the pool. While their 8-7record to close out the dual meet season might not look like much, it is important to note that all but one loss came to a nationally-ranked opponent, and just missed out on upsetting #25 Florida State by one point on the final race. Four All-ACC Selections return to give the Tigers one of the most potent punches in the league.
Several Tigers stepped up at the end of the season, leading Clemson to a fifth-place finish at the ACC Championships and a 48th place spot at the NCAA Championships. Almost all of the scorers return, and a talented freshman class only bolsters the group’s strength.
Ip is extremely excited about this seasons’ pull, adding, “The freshman class we brought in has potential, it’s just a matter of getting used to NCAA competition. Kelli Kyle, Jenna Voelkert, Lance Asti, and diving coach, Leslie Hasselbach have really done a great job building a total team.”
The upperclassmen have taken notice. Senior captain Rachel Regone said, “The 2008-09 team is special because our potential is so much greater this year. The recruiting classes have improved significantly over the years. There are no class divisions–we are one team and not four individual classes.”
Coach Ip has long stressed the importance of building a well-rounded program and his results through six seasons have spoken for themselves. The Tigers led the ACC and tied a conference record with seven Academic All-ACC selections. Additionally, the women were awarded the President’s Cup for the second consecutive season, given to the Clemson team that most embodies the athletic department’s mission of community service, academic achievement, and athletic accolades. Said Ip, “Leadership from our captains and our whole senior class is going to exemplify what our women’s program is about. I think they believe in our system, combining our athletic abilities with, community service and academics. We have done an outstanding job attracting quality student-athletes by developing a great plan and building a total team around our three cornerstone objectives.”
The 2008-09 team will turn some heads across the ACC and the NCAA. Every stroke returns at least one top-eight scorer from a season ago with the exception of the 500 free (which took 11th, 12th, and 15th) and the 200 fly. Rachel Regone was the silver medalist in the 50 free.
The team has worked hard to improve chemistry, with the upperclassmen stressing the importance of being a well-rounded student-athlete to the freshmen. The big-time potential of the younger swimmers and divers with the speed and depth of the upperclassmen could make the 2008-09 a special campaign in Tigertown.
FREESTYLE Lance Asti. The group boasts three of Clemson’s top swimmers ever in the 50 free and 100 free in Regone (1st, 2nd), Michelle Parkhurst (10th, 3rd). Along with Alex Allen, the group shattered the ACC record in the 200 free relay (1:30.60) to defend the title for the second consecutive season. With the same group returning, they will be hard to stop in their quest for a third consecutive title.
Freshman Jenna Voelkert is added to the mix, meaning the sprint free could be one of the most potent in the ACC. The Tigers will look for Sindall and Regone to both score in the 50 and 100 free, along with Voelkert and Allen pushing for points. The group of Parkhurst, Sindall, Summer O’Donnell, and Regone also put in the second best time in school history in the 400 free relay.
Summer O’Donnell and Cassy LaRussa are also returning scorers and Voelkert will be expected to push here as well. LaRussa is currently seventh on the Tigers all-time list. Rachel Hesler and Joanna Rakoczy will be able to contribute significantly as the season wears on.
O’Donnell and LaRussa will lead the distance group, along with sophomore Sarah Smith. Along with Hesler, this unit can contend in the ACC for big points in the final results. LaRussa was a top-eight finisher in the 1650 last season and is currently in the Clemson all-time top ten in the 200 free (7th), 500 free (8th), 1000 free (7th), and 1650 free (6th). Junior Mandy Snell can also be counted on in the mile to help the Tigers’ cause as they push the competitive ACC.
BUTTERFLY A year ago, the Tigers struggled with depth in the butterfly. Rachel Regone was called upon to help the unit that included senior captain Ashley Clay and departed senior Peg Carter. In 2008-09, freshman Maddie Tarantolo instantly gives the Tigers a big-time threat in the 100 fly. The Austin, TX native was an Olympic Trial participant and her career-best time would have placed 7th at the 2008 ACC Championships and would be good enough for second in Clemson history. Clay scored for the Tigers at the ACC Meet, while Regone advanced to the consolation finals. Junior Alex Allen will also be called upon to contribute in the 100 yard event.
Sophomore Mandy Snell, and Toni Kroll give the Tigers threats to pick up points at the ACC meet.
BACKSTROKE The 100 backstroke will be one of the wild cards for the 2008-08 squads. Kelli Kyle will be called upon to come perform, as her career-best time of 55.81 would have placed her fifth at the 2008 ACC Championships and fourth in Clemson history. Senior Captain Ashley Clay is also a major factor in both back events. Freshman Cara Lennon will add more depth to the group and Catlin Seed and Elle LeClair can get into the top-16 as well.
The 200 back group is also led by Parkhurst, who won the event at the ACC Championships in an ACC-record time of 1:55.33. She narrowly placed out of the semi-finals at the NCAA Championships, and will look to improve on her efforts on the national level. Clay, LeClair, Kyle, and Lennon will bolster the unit and push for points at the conference meet.
BREASTSTROKE The breaststroke emerged as a pleasant surprise for the Tigers with the rapid development of Elizabeth Savage. Savage put in top-eight finishes in both the 100 and 200 breast, as did junior Katrina Obas. Obas finished in the top 35 in three different strokes, including both breast events, at her home Canada’s Olympic Trials. These two will look to push for top-eight finishes again, and both have the school records well within their sights. Obas is currently 2nd in the 100 breast and this in the 200 breast, while Savage sits at tenth and 2nd, respectively.
Freshman Lauren Sindall to help in the 200 breast as well.
INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY Savage’s other breakthrough last season came in the 400 IM, where she put in a surprising top-eight finish as a freshman that put her fifth in Clemson history. Obas was a top-eight finisher in the 200 IM and is currently 2nd on the all-time list. With Groenewoud (8th in Clemson history) and the addition of Tarantolo, this unit is one to watch in 2008-09.
DIVING Head Coach Dani Kazilionis to the ACC bronze medal in the one-meter event last season. While Kazilionis is gone to graduation, the cupboard is far from bare. A full complement of four divers will compete for the Tigers this season. Junior Stephanie Fura is the leading returner, as she is a school record-holder on the three-meter boards and has valuable NCAA Zone diving experience.
“Stephanie Fura is healthy coming into the season healthy, and a healthy Stephanie will be a very valuable Stephanie,” said Hasselbach. “Stephanie is an example of what it takes to bounce back from adversity. She thrives on competition and her competition mode is very valuable. She is really able to turn it on in competitions.
The other three divers are senior Ali Zacker and freshmen Cassie Self and Brooke George. Zacker, a team leader out of the pool, has been a solid contributor throughout her career at Clemson and can provide experience and guidance to the group this season. Both George and Self are US National Championship qualifiers and are very talented. Hasselbach is charged with refining this unit and enhancing their natural talents with her coaching style to produce the best results possible.
Hasselbach added, “Ali is very outspoken and definitely knows the ropes around Clemson. She works very hard and leads by example, but is very involved in the realm outside of athletics with various student organizations. She will take the freshmen with her to see the other side.”
Expectations for the incoming freshmen are high as well. “I expect the freshmen to make a lot of changes,” said Hasselbach. “For them, it will be difficult to get used to a different style and a new training regimen. I think both young ladies will transition easily into the training process. The freshmen will definitely be pushing the veterans for their spots and are both very eager and have a passion for the sport of diving.”
OVERALL The Tigers fifth-place finish in 2007-08 marked an improvement throughout the season for the women’s team. This season, however, Clemson has a real opportunity to raise eyebrows around the nation. As the Tigers found out last season, standing isn’t necessarily about having the most individual wins, but rather the depth at each stroke.
Ip echoes this sentiment, saying, “Our depth at the upper level has really improved. In the past we’ve had depth, but it’s been at the middle of the pack. Every single event, there will be some Tigers in the top eight and top 16, and we haven’t seen that before. “
The Tigers will take on seven ACC opponents, as well as a new challenge, the Georgia Invitational, which traditionally has some of the best teams in the SEC and NCAA in heated midseason competition.
“The Georgia Invite is an opportunity for us to show that we are at that elite level and to get them exposed to racing against elite swimmers in midseason and get them ready for ACCs and NCAAs,” said Ip. “I think that this team is really looking for a shot to go up against these teams.”
In order to be a championship-caliber team, it is important to have teammates finishing in scoring positions. This team affords that depth that can move the Tigers up within the hotly contested ACC. Many teams will be bunched at the top, and this season marks an opportunity for Clemson to continue momentum into the upper echelon for years to come.
July 28, 2021