Oct. 14, 2011
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The South Carolina swimming and diving teams open the 2011-12 season on Saturday in a tri-meet with host Florida State and Alabama. The meet is slated to begin at 11 a.m. at the Morcom Aquatics Center in Tallahassee, Fla.
The Gamecock men are coming off a seventh-place showing at the Southeastern Conference Championships and a dominant 10-1 dual meet record in 2010-11, equaling the 1966 men's team mark for most wins in a season in school history. The South Carolina women went 7-6, which was the program's first winning record since 2002, and claimed sixth place at the SEC Championships. Both squads competed at the NCAA Championships, where the men finished 36th and the women placed 29th.
South Carolina head coach McGee Moody believes both teams are prepared to keep building a nationally prominent program in 2011-12.
"The goal as always is to continue to improve," Moody said. "I would love to see both our men's and women's teams in the top five at the SEC Championships. The thing with SECs is if you are top five that usually means you are top 15 in the country. I would love to see us continue a very dominating dual meet record. That's what we want and that's what the expectations are here. The team knows where we want to go."
The Gamecocks should get an early indication of where they stand on Saturday, as the Seminoles and Crimson Tide will provide a stiff challenge. Florida State finished third in both the men and women's ACC Championships a year ago. The Seminole women enter the meet with a 2-0 record, while the men are coming off a second place finish at the All-Florida Invitational. South Carolina has not faced Florida State since 2008, when the Seminoles defeated both Gamecock squads.
Saturday's meet is Alabama's season opener. The Crimson Tide men went 7-2 last season, including a 3-2 mark in SEC action, and the women were 0-9 overall and 0-5 in conference action. The Gamecocks defeated Alabama in both the men and women's meets a year ago, but the outcome was not determined until the final two races.
"I think we match up really well with Alabama, and Florida State is an outstanding program," Moody said. "This is going to be one of the premier meets in the country this weekend. All three teams are top 25 caliber teams. When you look at the matchups, we match up really well event for event with Alabama. Florida State is a little bit different. Some of their stronger events are some of our weaker events, and some of our stronger events are some of their weaker events. It should come down to the wire."
The South Carolina men's squad has 22 returning student-athletes and four newcomers this season. Junior All-American Michael Flach, who finished 15th in the 500 freestyle at the 2011 NCAA Championships, is the team's unquestioned leader. But with the 2012 Summer Olympics approaching, Flach is taking an Olympic redshirt to train for an opportunity to compete at the games in London.
With Flach focusing on the Olympics, the Gamecocks will turn to juniors Bobby Cave and Max Heinze to help carry the load. Cave is one of the most talented breaststrokers in the SEC as he broke his own school record in the 200 breaststroke at the SEC Championships a year ago with a time of 1:58.27. Heinze returns as one of the Gamecocks' top sprint specialists after winning five consecutive times in the 100 backstroke last spring.
On the boards, junior Rylan Ridenour is the men's top diver. Ridenour qualified for the NCAA Zone B Championships for the second straight season in 2011 and he just missed a trip to NCAA Championships with sixth-place finish on 1-meter springboard. Freshman Cole Miller, who recently won bronze in the 3-meter synchronized dive at the UANA Junior Pan American Diving Championships, will join Ridenour to give the Gamecocks a talented duo.
The Gamecock women return 24 student-athletes and welcome 13 newcomers. Sophomores Amanda Rutqvist and Rachael Schaffer look to build on two of the best freshman campaigns in the nation. Rutqvist, an All-American in the 100 and 200 breaststroke, won the 200 breaststroke last season at the SEC Championships to become South Carolina's first-ever SEC women's swimming champion. Schaffer, who was named to the SEC All-Freshman team, qualified for the NCAA Championships, barely missing the consolation final in the 400 IM. Schaffer also set school records in the 200 and 400 IMs at the SEC Championships.
"Amanda and Rachael had two of the best freshman years I've seen of anybody in the country," Moody said. "Their level of improvement was so high. The biggest thing now is to keep building on that. Those two are definitely the leaders of our program racing wise. They kind of set the standard."
Several newcomers are expected to make an immediate impact for the Gamecock women, including Annika Jonsson and Rachel Elliott. Jonsson was a five-time individual All-American in high school, swimming for both Horizon and Vista Ridge high schools in Texas. Elliott, who swam for T2 Aquatics, was the fastest high school sprinter coming out of Florida last year.
Captain Courtney Forcucci is primed to have a strong senior campaign to lead the Gamecock women on the boards. Forcucci is one of the premier divers in the conference after finishing fourth on the 1-meter springboard and ninth on the platform at the SEC Championships last season.
After competing on Saturday at Florida State, the Gamecocks return to Columbia for their home opener on Saturday, Oct. 22 against Georgia Tech. The meet is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at the Blatt P.E. Center/Carolina Natatorium.
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