2009-10 Air Force Men's Swimming and Diving Outlook
Oct. 10, 2009
On the heels of one of its most successful seasons to date, the Air Force men's swimming and diving team will look to remain near the top of the Mountain West Conference during the 2009-10 campaign. Last year, the Falcons brought home a second-place finish at the conference championships, matching their best-ever showing in the 10-year history of the league, and their best since 2004. Two Air Force athletes won individual titles at the 2009 meet--swimmer Benjamin Gunn in the 200 IM and diver Kyle Van Valkenburg on the platform--both of whom return this season.
Illustrating some of the experience that the Falcons return is the team's senior class, which includes three swimmers--Greg Edmonds, Chris Morin and Sean O'Keefe--and two divers--David Arlington and Van Valkenburg. O'Keefe is a six-time all-conference performer as an individual, and finished in the top three in both the 200 and 500 freestyle events last season. He also swam on both the 400 and 800 free relays which set new school records and earned all-conference honors. One of the top distance swimmers in school history, O'Keefe will challenge for conference titles in both the distance and middle distance events.
Morin is one of the more diverse swimmers on the team, and already holds Academy top 10 marks in the 100 butterfly, 100 breaststroke, 50 free and 200 IM, while swimming on a pair of school-record relays (400 free relay and 200 medley relay). In fact, his time of 48.08 in a time trial of the 100 fly ranks as the second-fastest in school history, and he is expected to compete for a title in the event. Meanwhile, Edmonds returns as one of Air Force's top breaststrokers, and, after landing in the consolation finals of both breaststroke events for the past two seasons, ranks in the top 10 in Academy history in both the 100 and 200.
The senior divers are led by Van Valkenburg, a two-time MWC champion. In addition to winning back-to-back platform titles, Van Valkenburg has also earned all-conference honors in both the 1-meter and 3-meter diving events. In addition, Arlington adds depth to the class as a two-time all-conference performer, most recently earning All-MWC recognition on the 1-meter board in 2009.
"We have great upperclassmen in the class of 2010, with both swimmers and divers who have been scoring at the Mountain West Conference Championships for years," said men's swimming coach Rob Clayton. "These seniors have been championship finalists, and so we're expecting them to lead us and continue to be top performers in the Mountain West Conference."
While the senior class is certainly talented, the junior class may be the strongest group of all as Robert Dawson, Josh Hammervold, Tom Hansen and Eric Robinson join Gunn in the class of 2011. Gunn is no doubt the leader of the group, after winning a conference title in the 200 IM with a school-record mark of 1:47.52. Gunn also set school records in two other individual events (100 and 200 butterfly) at the 2009 MWC Championships, while swimming on three school-record-setting relays (800 free relay, 200 medley relay and 400 medley relay).
Dawson, the Falcons' top sprinter last season, will look to advance to the conference finals this year in both the 50 and 100 freestyle events, as well as the 100 butterfly, where he clocked an Air Force top 10 mark. Hammervold returns as the team's top breaststroker and was a finalist in the 200 breaststroke. After the graduation of Justin Day, the school record-holder in the 100 breast, the Falcons will need someone to step into his shoes, and Hammervold may fill that role.
Hansen, who ranks among the Academy's all-time best in the distance events, will branch out into other events this season. An all-conference performer in both the 500 freestyle and 200 backstroke in 2009, Hansen will also compete this year in the 200 free and 400 IM. After swimming the lead-off leg of the Falcons' record-setting 800 free relay, Hansen has shown that he has the speed to compete at a shorter distance.
Meanwhile, Robinson, who also swam on the Falcons' 800 free relay at the MWC Championships, is another strong swimmer in the class of 2011. A conference finalist in the 200 free, Robinson ranks among the top 10 all-time at Air Force in both the 200 free and 200 butterfly, and is expected to compete in the 200 IM this season as well.
However, while the Falcons return some of their top performers from last season, the team is also very inexperienced. Underclassmen comprise nearly two-thirds of the overall squad, including 14 freshmen. Getting contributions from the freshman and sophomore classes will be a necessity if Air Force hopes to have a repeat of its stellar 2008-09 season.
"We have a very young team," said Clayton. "Twelve of our 25 swimmers are freshmen. We're going to count on our freshmen and our sophomores to step up and contribute in order for us to have a great season this year."
Three of this year's sophomores competed at the conference championships last season--Corydon Butler, Cody Deacon and Cole Smith. Butler was one of Air Force's top distance swimmers last year and was a conference finalist in the 1650 free. Meanwhile, Deacon is another breaststroker who will look to fill the void left by Day. After scoring as a consolation finalist in the 100 breast as a freshman, Deacon has made great strides since last season. Smith advanced to the consolation finals of the 400 IM last season.
Other sophomores expected to make an impact are Nathan Erickson and Nate Roesler. "We expect our sophomores, especially Cody and Corydon, to really step up and have huge seasons," said Clayton. "They have looked great in practice. Each one of our sophomores should compete for a spot on our MWC roster."
Meanwhile, the freshman class will also have to make an impact, something that they have already done by raising the competitive level in practice. While the class as a whole is incredibly strong, there are a few swimmers that stand out.
One of the projected stars of the class of 2013 is Jon Jones, a freestyler who is expected to be an immediate contributor. Paul Young, who placed fifth at Junior Nationals in the 200 backstroke, will look to fill the vacancy left by graduated all-conference performer Kai Yamashiro.
"Jon and Paul are the leaders of our best freshman class in recent history," commented Clayton. "They have both posted times that prove they can compete at the top of the MWC in their first year."
In addition, there are two other freshmen who are expected to contribute in the 400 IM, an event in which Air Force would like to improve. Both J.H. Vivadelli and Mark Hansen, younger brother of Tom, enter the season with times that are on par with championship final times.
A pair of freshmen will add depth to the diving squad, which includes Arlington and Van Valkenburg along with junior Nathaniel Gilbert and sophomores Jesse Bicknell and Cheyne Clark. Newcomer Beau Riebe, an athlete who steps up his performance during competition, is expected to be a significant contributor in his first year. Meanwhile, Brent White is a rookie diver with talent, who will gradually become a better performer.
While trying to perfect the balance of youth and experience, the Falcons will face a challenging schedule that includes an annual trip to the prestigious Nike Cup and an always competitive dual conference slate. Still the team will aim to use the trials of the season to prepare for its ultimate goal--a strong showing at the Mountain West Conference Championships.
"Our goal as always is to place in the top three of our conference," said Clayton. "Last year, we were thrilled to finish second and hopefully [this season] we can peak just at the perfect time, like we did last year."