Oct. 6, 2011
New beginnings are all around for the Air Force men's swimming & diving team as it enters the 2011-12 season. The Falcons begin competition in a new conference, while swimming in their newly refurbished pool. In addition, AFA will be looking to move forward after graduating one of its strongest senior classes ever last season.
Despite all the changes in and around the program, head swim coach Rob Clayton remains quite optimistic about his team as he enters his 14th season at the helm.
The Falcons depart the Mountain West Conference and join the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) for the 2011-12 season. The MPSF features nine schools participating in men's swimming & diving, including former MWC rivals BYU, UNLV and Wyoming.
"The MPSF is going to be a tough swimming conference," Clayton said. "We're taking all the top swim programs from the Mountain West and adding them with some other already strong programs, so it's going to be a very competitive league at the championship."
One of Air Force's biggest additions this season is the renovation of the Cadet Natatorium. After having to train in multiple venues last year--including the water polo pool and the USAFA community center pool--the Falcons return to a refurbished state-of-the-art Cadet Natatorium. The new natatorium features an Olympic sized pool with the ability to convert from long-course to short-course distances. In addition, the pool can convert from yards to meters. The diving wells have also been re-done, with all new 1m, 3m and platform wells.
"Having the ability to switch from long-course to short-course is going to allow us to train more specifically and be much better prepared for the type of pool we will be swimming in for competition," Clayton said. "The new video board and new diving facility puts the Cadet Natatorium in a short list of elite swimming facilities in the country."
Air Force returns 18 letterwinners from the 2010-11 squad and welcome 11 freshmen. The Falcons lose six seniors off the 2010-11 team, including MW Senior Recognition Award winner Benjamin Gunn and MW Scholar Athlete of the Year Eric Robinson. Gunn was a three-time MW Champion and leaves the Academy holding five school individual and three relay records.
"We graduated some great swimmers from last year," Clayton said. "Obviously, we have our work cut out for us this year, in terms of finding guys to step up. We have several returners I feel are ready to step into bigger roles. We also have a very talented freshman group that will come in here and contribute right off the bat."
Air Force will be led by its four seniors, highlighted by Cody Deacon and Corydon Butler. Deacon is coming off a stellar Mountain West Championships, where he was a finalist in both breaststroke events. In addition, Deacon is an Olympic Trials qualifier in the 100 breast. Butler earned All-MW honors last year in the 200, 500 and 1650 free events. Butler was the Mountain West runner-up in the 500 free and was a top-five finisher in his three distance free events.
"Cody and Corydon are coming off excellent junior seasons for us," Clayton said. "Cody is our team captain this year and we look for him to lead our team in both breaststroke events. Corydon was one of the top swimmers in the distance free events last year and we expect him to do well in all three of those events this year."
"Both Nate and Cole have scored points for us at the conference championships and we expect them to be great leaders for our team as seniors," Clayton said.
The junior class features seven swimmers and one diver. Matt Millikin is coming off a strong showing at the championships, cracking the school's Top 10 list in both the 100 and 200 backstroke events. Tim Martinelli also had a strong showing at the MW championships in the sprint-free events.
"Matt and Tim had excellent conference meets for us," Clayton said. "Matt has been solid for us in the back and Tim was outstanding in the 200. Once Tim perfects his race strategy, he will be very tough to beat at the conference championships."
Anthony Chiaro and Kaleb Jenkins had great end-of-season meets last year, with Chiaro scoring significant points at the MW Championships and Jenkins cracking into the USAFA Top 10 in the 100 Breaststroke. Chiaro will swim the fly and free events. Jenkins will see action in several events, focusing on butterfly and breaststroke. Ryan Brigman and Jon Jones will provide depth in the distance free events and Mark Hansen can help the team out in several events, with the ability to swim the breast, fly and medley.
"The junior class features a strong, capable bunch," Clayton said. "We look for Anthony and Kaleb to be much improved from last year and do well for us."
The sophomore class features several swimmers looking to break out in their second season at the Academy. Micah Newmann is coming off a year where he swam the fastest 100 free ever by an Academy freshman and looks to be one of the Falcons' top sprint freestylers. Not to be outdone by his classmate, Angus MacDonald swam the fastest 200 back time ever by a freshman at the Academy and can also contribute in the butterfly events and relays. Paul Leonhardt is another sophomore that had a standout rookie season. Leonhardt was an All-MW selection in the 200 fly and cracked the schools' top 10 in four events, the 200 free, 200 IM and 100 and 200 fly. Newcomer Jonathan Eng will also contribute in the sprint-free events.
"Micah is one of our fastest sprinters and Angus gives us a strong presence in the backstroke events, "Clayton said. "Paul is a very talented swimmer and we look for a big season out of him this year. Our sophomore group is strong and talented across the board."
The freshman group will be led by Max Evans-Nolan and diver Matt Bumgarner. Evans-Nolan will compete in the distance free events. Bumgarner comes to the Academy after an accomplished high school career.
"Max has been training neck-and-neck with Corydon. That is very exciting when we think about the distance events," Clayton said. "Matt was one of the top high school diving recruits in the country. He comes from Oklahoma. We expect big things out of him from the beginning."
Ryan Dunne will be looked upon to contribute in many different events, including the mid-distance free, fly and medley events. Ryan Haas and Sam Sloan have swam well in the back and fly events so far in preseason workouts. Sam Wieser will add depth to the breast and medley events. Kyle Casias was a national qualifier in the fly events during his high school career. Peter Shelbourne will swim the fly and free events, Alex Strom will see action in the distance free events and Shane Toner will swim the free and fly events.
"Our freshmen are very strong across the board," Clayton said. "We look for several of them to step right in and swim well for us."
Air Force will have five divers this season on the men's team. Junior Brent White is the elder statesman. Sophomores Peter Cialkowski and Alex Pecci are both coming off strong freshman campaigns. The returners will be joined by the freshmen Bumgarner and Greg Copeland.
"Diving coach Stan Curnow has added some good young divers this season," Clayton said. "With our returning divers coming back with more experience, our new facility, and our biggest diving meets--MPSF Championships and NCAA Zone Championships--being right here at USAFA, we are looking forward to a tremendous year on the boards," Clayton said.
While the team is young, there is great reason for optimism on the pool deck at the Air Force Academy.