Oct. 7, 2010
On the heels of back-to-back second place finishes at the Mountain West Conference championships, the Air Force men's swimming & diving team looks to continue a strong run of performances as its enters the 2010-11 season. Guided by a deep senior class, and the return of six all-conference honorees across eight individual events and four relay teams, reigning Mountain West Conference Men's Swimming Coach of the Year Rob Clayton envisions another strong season.
Air Force will lean heavily on its senior class, led by Benjamin Gunn, the reigning conference champion and record-holder in the 200 individual medley. Gunn holds four Air Force records (200 IM, 100 fly, 200 fly, 100 back) and was all-Mountain West in three individual events (100 & 200 back, 200 IM) and three relay events (400 free, 200 & 400 medley). In addition to Gunn, senior Robert Dawson is a multiple all-conference honoree earning All-MWC recognition in the 100 free and four relay events (200 & 400 free, 200 & 400 medley).
Seniors Tom Hansen and Eric Robinson are also returning all-conference selections. Hansen was All-MWC and Air Force's top swimmer in the 400 IM. He has also finished at the top of the conference in both the 500 free and 200 Back. Robinson, who is the Air Force Academy's top ranked student in terms of academics, was part of the all-conference 200 free squad and will provide valuable leadership this year as the team captain. He will also lead the Falcons in the 200 fly.
Josh Hammervold, Air Force's fifth senior, will specialize in the 200 breaststroke and will also look to contribute in the medley events as well.
"This senior class has been one of the most productive groups we've ever had at the conference championships," Clayton said. "Each and every one of them have swam in the championship finals at the MWC Championships. They have accomplished incredible things for our swimming program, and we expect great things from them this season."
Air Force's junior class will be led by Corydon Butler and Cody Deacon. Butler is a distance specialist who earned All-MWC honors and ranks in the Air Force Top-10 in the 500 and 1650 free. Deacon specializes in the breaststroke events, ranking in the Academy Top-10 in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke. Deacon is also a returning All-MWC selection in the 200 medley relay. Joining Butler and Deacon are fellow juniors Nate Roesler and Cole Smith. Roesler will be called upon to contribute in the 100 and 200 butterfly events and Smith will specialize in the sprint-freestyle events.
A large sophomore class, featuring 10 swimmers, looks to increase their contribution in their second year of competition. Paul Young is coming off a solid freshman campaign that saw him earn all-conference honors in the 200 backstroke. Young, who will also see action in the 200 IM, already ranks in AFA's top-10 in the 100 and 200 backstroke events. Anthony Chiaro and Jake Stronko will both swim the freestyle and butterfly events. Ryan Brigman, Jon Jones and Tim Martinelli will see action in the freestyle events. Mark Hansen, younger brother of senior Tom, will see action in the the medley and butterfly events. Matt Millikin has the ability to swim the back, fly and free events. Ryan Sittig is another versatile swimmer that will see action in the free, fly and medley events. Weston Walker will look to add depth in the butterfly and sprint freestyle events.
"We look for our sophomores to take the next step in their development," Clayton said. "We have some very talented swimmers in the Class of 2013. We're excited for the great time drops that we expect to see from them this season."
Air Force features five talented freshmen joining the team in 2010-11 and Clayton foresees the group making an immediate impact. Paul Leonhardt will bolster the Falcons in several events, specializing in the medley and butterfly events.
Leonhardt will also contribute in all the relay events. Angus MacDonald is another accomplished newcomer that will support the team in several events, with the ability to swim the backstroke, butterfly and sprint freestyle events. Micah Newmann will also be an instant contributor in the butterfly and freestyle events.
"We have an extremely talented freshman class," Clayton said. "Not only will they immediately help us in all our individual events, they will be key additions to our relay teams."
One of Air Force's team strength's this year will be its relay teams. Clayton envisions the 800 free relay and 400 medley relay teams could challenge for MWC titles.
"Our 800 free has a good chance to be one of the best ever here and challenge for an NCAA spot," Clayton said. "In addition, we feel our 400 medley relay team will be very strong as well. Our relays should be strong across the board."
The Air Force diving team will consist of five divers that will be looking to replace a pair of standouts in Kyle VanValkenburg and David Arlington, who graduated last year. VanValkenberg was an All-MWC performer in the platform and 3-meter springboard events and Arlington was a solid four-year contributor.
Senior Nathaniel Gilbert, junior Cheyne Clark, and sophomore Brent White are the three returning members of the diving team. Freshmen Peter Cialkowski and Alexander Pecci join the team and look to add depth.
"We are pretty young and unproven in the diving events right now," Clayton said. "We lost a couple solid divers in Kyle and David and we look for some new faces to step up and contribute."
With a nice balance of senior leadership, infused with young, but up-and-coming talent, the Falcons have the ingredients in place for another successful season. The Falcons face another strong non-conference season, highlighted by the Arena Invitational in Long Beach, Calif. The Mountain West Conference slate is always competitive with meets against TCU, UNLV, BYU, Utah and Wyoming. The Falcons look to build towards its goal of another strong showing at the Mountain West Conference Championships in February.
"This senior class is hungry to cement their legacy as one of our best groups," Clayton said. "If we maintain our focus and intensity during workouts, we feel we have the pieces in place to have a very successful season."