The 19th ranked men’s (1-4, 1-2 SEC) and 23rd ranked women’s (5-3, 1-1 SEC) team both finished fifth at the conference championships last season, the highest finish for the men since 1999-00 and for the women since 2001-02. The coaches are confident similar success is in the cards.
“We’ve got to go out there and compete to our highest ability,” Swimming Coach Dave Geyer said. “It is a team effort. We met with the team last week and looked at some point scenarios and where all the teams fall. We’re going to have to step up our game to reach into that top-four echelon, but it is certainly in our reach. We just need to go out there and race and compete. The points will take care of themselves.”
The Lady Tigers head into the post-season hot off of a quad-meet sweep of host Houston, Rice and Tulane. LSU showed its depth by earning victory without top performers juniors Amanda Kendall and Sara Haley and senior Samantha Goates.
Kendall has paced LSU this season after returning from the 2011 Pan American Games with four gold medals to her credit. The Olympic hopeful recently secured victories in the 50 freestyle, 100 free, 200 free and 100 butterfly against nationally ranked Texas A&M and a stacked field at the Tennessee Invitational.
The Fairfax, Va. native owns three top-four times in the conference this season in the 50 free (22.36), 100 free (48.19) and 100 fly (53.16).
“Realistically I think she can be on the podium for all three of her individual events,” Geyer said. “I think that is highly realistic. Without a doubt she should be on the podium for her three individual performances.”
Last year’s All-SEC performers sophomore Torrey Bussey and junior Jana Ruimerman join Haley and Goates. Newcomers Amber Carter, Marlene Niemi and Kaetlin Sepp will help bolster the squad.
Haley has excelled in the 200 fly and has a season low mark of 1:57.11, which places her third in the conference for the season. Haley set LSU’s program record in a bronze medal performance in last year’s SEC Championships.
Goates currently sits third in the program annals in the 50 free (22.55), and finished eighth at last year’s conference championships.
Bussey earned SEC All-Freshman honors a year ago for her swims in the 100 breaststroke, 200 breast and 200 individual medley. Bussey finished 11th, seventh and seventh respectively in the three above-mentioned events last year.
On the men’s side, LSU junior and Four-Time NCAA Honorable Mention swimmer Andrei Tuomola leads the pack. Junior distance swimmer Craig Hamilton and sophomore sprinter Michael Saco, as well as skilled newcomers in transfer sophomore Ricardo Alvarado Jiminez and freshmen Michael Young and Frank Greeff join him.
Tuomola, a First-Team All-SEC swimmer a year ago, currently boasts the top 100 breast (53.99) in the conference. He also has the fourth and fifth best 50 free and 100 free times in the conference thus far this year. He earned gold in the 50 free (19.94) at the Tennessee Invitational.
Hamilton narrowly missed All-SEC Honors last season in the mile swim and is hungry to crack the top-eight this season. He currently holds the fourth fastest 1650 free (15:16.80) mark this season in the conference.
Alvarado Jiminez has been a pleasant surprise for the Tigers in the 100 and 200 breast. He claims the fifth and fourth fastest time respectively in the conference this season.
Young has emerged as one of the top backstrokers in the conference and Greeff has excelled in the fly events. Both swimmers hold top-10 in the SEC times for both 100 and 200 yard events.
On the diving side of things, Coach Doug Shaffer believes his team is in prime position to be serious point scorers.
“It is like I told the athletes, I am super excited,” Shaffer said. “I told them last week that they were exactly where I wanted them to be going into the championships. I actually felt we were ready two weeks ago and we are right on track.”
The men’s side returns last year’s All-SEC Freshman member in Daniel Helm along with senior Matt Vieke and fellow sophomore Kevin Leong. The three competitors have battled for team supremacy all year long on the three-meter and platform. They each have top-12 marks in both events within the conference entering the post-season.
“I think it is well within our reach that we could have three men in the finals of the three-meter spring board and the platform,” Shaffer said. “Two in the men’s one-meter spring board. I think that is well within our reach, and every male diver has the opportunity and is set up in the position where we can all score.”
The women’s diving duo of freshman Alex Bettridge and junior Elle Schmidt are in prime position to make an impact on the one-meter, three-meter and platform.
Bettridge is LSU’s record holder in the three-meter (334.40) and currently is in the top-12 in the conference in all three of her events. Schmidt possesses two top-15 scores in the three-meter and platform as well.
“I expect them to compete at the highest level,” Shaffer said. “Alex has nothing to prove and everything to learn. She is a fierce competitor and realistically has an opportunity to final in all three of her events at her first SEC Championships. I am very confident Elle will score in all three levels. I am looking for her to be in the top-12.”
The SEC Championships will be re-aired on Monday and Tuesday of next week on ESPNU beginning at 4 p.m. (CT).
For more information on the SEC Championships, please visit LSUsports.net; follow @LSUSwimDive on Twitter or ‘like’ LSU Swimming and Diving on Facebook.