PASADENA, Calif. (Nov. 1, 2016) – With a combined 21 program records last season, the Caltech men's and women's swimming & diving teams have carried significant momentum through the past two years. They are poised to continue their climb up the SCIAC standings thanks to returning 100 percent of their individual points at the conference Championships along with the addition of several impact newcomers.
The 2015-16 men's team scored its most points at the SCIAC Championships since 1995-96, while the women posted their best total since 85-86. Just as significantly, both squads notably cut their deficit versus the majority of the conference; the women were just 61.5 points out of eighth place and 151.5 shy of fourth, while the men needed just 108 more to reach the fifth-place team. They will look to better those performances behind first-year head coach Paul Hughes, who joins the Beavers after four years of high0level success at Tufts University and Kalamazoo College.
"The makings of a great foundation are already here," Hughes said. "We're still getting to know each other as individuals, but I'm confident that as a team, by the end of the year, we're going to be swimming fast."
A trio of individual program record-holders headline a returning core that accounted for every individual point scored at last year's SCIAC Championships, in addition to another pair of relay record contributors. Sophomores Adam Dai (Santa Barbara, Calif. / Dos Pueblos), Dylan Lu (Kingwood, Texas / Kingwood) and Henry Steiner (Petaluma, Calif. / Casa Grande) set a combined six records, with Steiner topping the group at three. Lu and Steiner scored in all three individual events they swam at the Championships, with high places of seventh and eighth, respectively, while providing a competitive presence at the top of the lineup in dual meets.
"It's great to bring back a couple guys who set records in their first year," Hughes said. "Dylan and Henry are at the point where they can start eyeing NCAA 'B' cuts and Adam is going to have some help in the breaststroke events this year, making for a strong 1-2 punch."
Another trio of high school teammates in juniors Alexander Bourzutschky (Potomac, Md. / Montgomery Blair), Hanzhi Lin (Potomac, Md. / Montgomery Blair) and Avikar Periwal (Potomac, Md. / Montgomery Blair) represent the lone returning upperclassmen, but all three have contributed to the team's point total at the SCIAC Championships in the first half of their careers and now will provide a veteran presence in the squad. Bourzutschky will make the transition from diving, in which he placed ninth in the conference on the 1-meter board last year, to sprint freestyle and breaststroke, while Lin and Periwal once again will be key names on the dual meet lineup sheet.
"Those guys are important leaders in this team, and to have so many who have scored at Champs in their first two years – we have a really strong core thanks to them," Hughes said.
Sophomores David Berger Maneiro (Calabasas, Calif. / Viewpoint) and Jonathan Willett (Edina, Minn. / Edina) are also back after admittedly inconsistent but in the end quite successful rookie seasons. Berger Maneiro struggled through various knocks through the first half of the year but finally found his calling as a distance swimmer just weeks before the Championships, resulting in his scoring for Caltech in the 1650 Free. Meanwhile, Willett's race times finally caught up to his training when it mattered most, and although he did not score individually at the Championships, he was a key member on three of the four record-setting relays.
"We're expecting both David and Jon to leapfrog off their strong finishes to last year," Hughes said. "With more focus on distance training from Day One, David could make a real impact at the conference level, and Jon is so projectable and trains so hard, he's going to continue finding ways to succeed."
Whereas the 2015-16 team was strong enough at the top of the lineup to win two dual meets, tie another and place eighth in the conference – just 108 points out of seventh – the addition of two freshmen could be exactly the missing ingredients for a charge up the conference ladder. Rookie Thomas Gallup (Houston, Texas / Phillips Exeter Acad.) arrives at Caltech after just missing out on qualification for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the 100 Breaststroke, with a top time that is over three seconds faster than Dai's program record. Fellow newcomer Alex Moraru (Southlake, Texas / Carroll Senior) is not far behind, with his versatility evidenced by best times within a couple seconds of the program record in five different events.
"Tom and Alex are fantastic additions who fill in exactly where we needed guys to," Hughes said. "Tom could come right in, be a top-three guy in the conference and eye nationals. Alex can score highly for us pretty much wherever we need to put him and really round out our relays."
Senior Leon Ding (Blaine, Minn. / Spring Lake Park) rejoins as a somewhat familiar face, having stepped away following a solid first year. He posted the second-fastest 50 Free, 100 Back and 100 Fly on the team in 2013-14. Classmate Kyle Seipp (Rockville Centre, N.Y. / Baldwin Senior) rounds out the team as another needed older presence in his first year of swimming.
"Last year, the team had guys who could compete for first place in a couple events at dual meets," Hughes said. "Now, we have guys like that in every event, plus the depth to have that third guy battling for fourth or fifth and those vital points. We're really close to having four full classes of solid swimmers and making a real challenge in the conference."
Led by the program's first female SCIAC champion in a swimming event, the women's team returns 100 percent of its scoring at the 2015-16 SCIAC Championships. Sophomore Brittany Percin (Moraga, Calif. / Stanford Online) took the conference by storm in her rookie season, claiming the 200 Freestyle title in an NCAA 'B" cut, in addition to a third-place finish in the 200 Butterfly and sixth in the 500 Freestyle. She set a total of seven program records over the course of the year, while classmate Gemma Takahashi (San Jose, Calif. / Leland) set another four, including placing 13th in the 200 Backstroke, ninth in the 100 Back and four in the 100 Fly, for which she swam the fastest prelim time.
"Brittany and Gemma were obviously major additions to the team last year, but with a year of experience are already setting their sights even higher," Hughes said. "Brittany is in position to focus seriously on becoming a national-level swimmer. Gemma might be the most well-rounded swimmer in the conference – after dealing with an injury early last year, she's coming into this season in much better shape and really has the potential to be All-Conference in whatever events she swims."
Once back from studying abroad over the fall term, senior Zofii Kaczmarek (New York, N.Y. / Stuyvesant) once again will team with Percin and Takahashi to form one of the most potent trios in the conference. Kaczmarek has increased her place at the Championships on both boards all three years of her career, from 12th on the 3-meter and 15th on the 1-meter to seventh and 11th, respectively, last season.
"It is so valuable to have a diver of Zofii's caliber to count on in dual meets and at the Championships," Hughes said. "We're expecting her steady improvements to continue, and hopefully with a little extra boost in her final year."
A pair of recruited freshmen join the squad for 2016-17 after distinguished high school careers in their own right. Elisabeth Gallmeier (Oak Ridge, Tenn. / Oak Ridge) and Angelina Pan (Toronto, Canada / Havergal Coll.) each amassed multiple All-League honors, with personal-best times not far off a number of records set by Percin and Takahashi as freshmen last year. The Beavers also will get a boost from another pair of newcomers in sophomore Alix Espino (El Paso, Texas / El Paso) and freshman Tzarina Shippee (San Diego, Calif. / La Jolla).
"Angelina and Elisabeth help round out the top of our lineup extremely well," Hughes said. "Penciling Elisabeth into the distance events allows Brittany to be a little more versatile. Angelina can do some damage in the fly and sprint freestyle events and both will be key contributors on our relays. Tzarina will contribute in sprint free and backstroke, and as a second diver Alix should score in several dual meets, with an eye toward sneaking in at Champs."
Although thin in numbers, the Beavers' star trio and newfound depth puts them in position to solidify a strong foundation for years to come, while perhaps surprising a conference foe or two along the way.
"I'm excited to build on the culture that has been forming here the past couple years," Hughes said. "Our primary goal is going to be to improve within ourselves, both in the pool and as teammates, but we are approaching every dual meet as a learning experience with an eye toward swimming our fastest at the end of the year. The additions this year give us the depth to round out just about every event, but are also the right mix of specialties and versatility that will allow us to keep competing in events we feel strongest and most confident."
Hughes and the Beavers open the season at the University of Redlands on Saturday, Nov. 5.