Oct. 6, 2011
Air Force women's swimming & diving enters the 2011-12 season with much enthusiasm and lofty ambitions. A new era of Falcon swimming also begins as Air Force will host home competition in the newly refurbished Cadet Natatorium.
The Falcons have steadily built up the talent level in the program, blending a solid returning core with another standout freshman class. Head swim coach Casey Converse enters his 24th season at Air Force with what he feels may be one of his most talented teams since making the step up to the Div. I level.
Air Force returns several standout performers from the 2011-12 season which saw several school records broken at the Mountain West Conference Championships. The Falcons return 20 letterwinners, including a pair of divers from last season. The Falcons return their last two team MVP's in junior Haley Holcombe, the 2010-11 team MVP and senior Katharine Ernst, the team's 2009-10 team MVP. In addition, sophomore Erin Bleyl, owner of five school records, returns after one of the most successful freshman campaigns in school history.
The Falcons are coming off a solid 2010-11 season that saw three individual school records and four school relay records set. In addition, 17 swims at the conference championships cracked the school's top 10 list. The Falcons were strong in the classroom as well, placing nine athletes on the Academic All-Conference list.
"We are extremely excited to get going with the 2011-12 season," Converse said. "With the ability to train in our newly refurbished pool and with our intense land-training, our team much further along than we were at the same time last year."
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.
"With the newly refurbished Natatorium, we have been able to train and work on some detailed technique much earlier than last season," Converse said. "We've been able to sharpen up some little things a lot quicker and that has been a significant advantage in our development so far this preseason."
Air Force will have a strong group of leaders with their six seniors, one of the largest the Falcons have had in several years. Team captain and 2009-10 team MVP Katharine Ernst leads the way as a conference finalist in the butterfly events as well as competing in the medley events.
Cassie Fletcher leads the sprint free group with Alison Ceranksi and Lauren Delaney providing added depth. Julie Grabarek has continued to show improvement and looks to break out in the distance free events for AFA. Elvira Chiccarelli rounds out the seniors and will swim the fly and backstroke events for the Falcons.
"This is one of our biggest senior groups in recent memory," Converse said. "They've all been consistent contributors since their freshman year. We have a bunch of great leaders with this group."
The junior class is led by team MVP Haley Holcombe. Holcombe was an All-Mountain West selection in the 100 and 200 butterfly events, setting school records in both events. Rosie Mayou posted a school top 10 mark in the 100 breast a season ago and will be called upon to contribute in the breaststroke events. Lauren McGuire and Alexandra Trobe will both provide added depth in the freestyle events. Heather Ireland returns to the team after taking a year off and has swam the backstroke events very well so far in preseason workouts.
"The junior class is coming along well and developing into strong leaders for us. Haley has had a strong offseason, getting to swim this summer, and Heather has been swimming extremely well for us in preseason workouts."
The sophomore class is coming off a strong freshman season, featuring many of its top swimmers in several events. Erin Bleyl set school records in both the 100 and 200 backstroke events and was part of three record-setting relay events. Fellow classmate Samantha Laughlin will also bolster an already strong backstroke group and will look to move up the Academy Top 10 list in both back events. Gabby Aranda cracked the Academy Top 10 in the 200 medley and both butterfly events and looks poised for improvement. Hannah Cesare was one of Air Force's top sprint freestylers and looks to improve upon a solid freshman season. Michelle Kuyper was Air Force's lone swimmer in the 1650 free at conference and will swim the distance free events for the Falcons. Liz Harrison and Elizabeth Keenan will be called upon to add depth to the freestyle and medley events.
"Our sophomore class is probably our strongest group of swimmers," Converse said. "Erin is coming of a phenomenal freshman year and she continues to show improvement. Samantha is coming into form after struggling with some health issues late last year and Gabby Continues to improve for us. Hannah has a chance to climb up our freestyle charts and we expect improvement out of Michelle, Liz and Elizabeth."
Air Force features another strong freshman class, building upon the talented rookie class from last year. Kim Davis has been a standout in the medley and breaststroke events so far in preseason workouts. Converse envisions Davis having the talent to challenge several school records in the medley, breast and medley relay events. Lauren Haggerty and Noel Niccum, coupled with Davis, will provide the Falcons with depth at the breaststroke events that hasn't been seen at the Academy in several years.
"We've been extremely thin at breaststroke for several years now, but this group of freshmen will immediately contribute and post strong swims for us," Converse said.
Clara Heffernan has had some strong swims this preseason for the Falcons in the mid-distance free events. Sara Brooks and Alex Claude will provide depth in the backstroke events and Janelle Galang will swim the fly events.
"Our freshmen are a talented bunch," Converse said. They will add some much needed depth in several events and contribute immediately. Assistant coach Carrie Renter has done a fantastic job of bringing in solid recruiting classes these last couple of years."
Air Force features five divers this season, after having just two divers last year. Sophomores Moranda Hern and Rachel Kennedy return after strong freshman campaigns. They will be joined by freshmen Lainie Long, Jeanne Nolan and Samantha Wilson.
"Diving coach Stan Curnow has added some depth to our diving squad and we expect them to be stronger for us this year," Converse said.