Panthers Aim For Fourth-Staight League Title
Oct. 11, 2012
Friday, Oct. 12 Wisconsin
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee men's swimming & diving team aims for its fourth-consecutive Horizon League Championship this year, starting with a road dual meet in Madison, Wis. The Panthers renew their annual match up with the Badgers this Friday starting at 4 p.m.
For the first time in head coach Kyle Clements' tenure, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee men's swimming & diving team enters the season in a bit of unchartered waters. That seems odd to say for the team that has won the past three Horizon League Championships. But for the first time in four years, the Panthers will be entering the pool without last year's senior group that was the backbone of the team during its four years in the Black and Gold. While the roster will look a little different this year, the team is still confident the end result will be the same.
"It's going to be different this year," Milwaukee head coach Kyle Clements said. "To not look over my shoulder and have those young men that were such a big part of this program standing behind me will be different, but we are still ready for another run to defend our title."
By no means is the cupboard left bare for this season. On the contrary, Milwaukee still returns the majority of three all-league relay teams as well as two of its school-record holders.
"This year's team is, once again, very deep," Clements said. "Some of that depth will come from the 13 newcomers that we added this year. The talent is already there with those young men and we're going to need them to step in for us this year. Each team is a little different and we are in a very tough conference, but we are ready to go to work and defend our title again."
"We have a very solid group of guys in our sprint groups," Clements said. "Our group is not necessarily the fastest in conference, but we are very deep and will continue to be this year."
Senior Nathan Welchlin holds the school record in the 200 free and led the way for Milwaukee in all three events last year. Sam Niesen, Mike Schalla, Mike Brady, Caleb Sandvold all also represented the Black & Gold at the league meet last year and are joined by sophomore transfer Mike Lucchesi who finished runner-up at the Wisconsin high school state meet as a senior. Freshmen Tanner Nimke, Riley Spitzig and Erik Wahlgren all also figure to factor in this year.
This year, the picture is much different.
Milwaukee still has some strong senior leaders in the group, but there are also a handful of very strong youngsters in the mix.
"Kenny (Stelpflug) really did well for us last year, proven by him earning (Horizon League Men's) Newcomer of the Year," Clements said. "Nic and Tim (Halverson) both have a good chance to do what Kenny did for us last year, and those are just our young guys. We still have some good leaders in this group and it should be another good year for all of them."
"We lost a very good group of swimmers in the `flys last year," Clements said. "However, we still have very good still here on our campus. Some of them haven't had to swim it much before because of the group we had, but they are more than capable.
"Plus, we've got a lot of guys coming up that have been getting better as they're going through the program. Ryan Finke, Scott Hasksins, Robert Miller - all have been doing well so far and will swim well for us this year."
Senior Sam Niesen finished league runner-up in the 100 back last year, was third in the 200 back and nearly has both school records. Junior Chris Jenkyns already owns one of the fastest times in school history in the 200 back and sophomore Brian Linzmeyer will look to continue to come on strong after a solid freshman campaign.
"Sam is a very gifted swimmer and he's going to be our anchor in the backstrokes again this year," Clements said. "Chris has done some impressive things in his first two years with us and will only continue to get better and Brian will join the group this year and will continue to grow as the year goes on."
"We had two incredible breaststrokers last year that we lost with graduation," Clements said. "You can't replace those two but can fill their spots and we have the talent to do that."
Senior David Dvorak owns some of the fastest times in school history in the 100 breast and swam in the finals of the event at the league meet both of the past two seasons. Add in a slew of freshmen that all had impressive high school careers and UWM might even be stronger in the two events this year.
"We brought in a lot of freshmen who can breaststroke and I'm really excited about what they can do for us," Clements said. "Joseph Chokran, J.J. Melville, Teddy Stackman, Riley Spitzig and Taylor Wisdorf all can contribute for us right away and it's going to be a fast group for us."
"This team has a lot of flexibility to it and it's going to take some time to see who swims in every event," Clements said. "Right now, we know we have some very good swimmers more-than capable to IM for us, but there might be someone that emerges as the season goes on. That's what I love about this team."
Seniors David Dvorak and Caleb Sandvold have the most experience from this year's roster, both placing in the top four of the 100 breast at the Horizon League Championships one year ago. Freshman J.J. Melville also figures to make a big impact early on.
"We had a very good year last year on the boards," Clements said. "We broke a school record and did well at the (league) championships. The exciting part is, we're only going to continue improving."
Now sophomore K.J. Heger broke the school record twice on the three-meter board and was in the finals on both boards, as was classmate Lee Anderson. Fellow sophomore Andy LaFleur finished the season strong last year, taking eighth on the three-meter and winning the consolation round on the one-meter.
Add to the mix freshmen Will Sass, Wisconsin's runner-up at the state meet one year ago, and Andres Villa, an accomplished diver that has done well on both boards and platform, and Milwaukee seems poised to have another record-breaking year in diving.
"It has been a long time coming to take down some of those diving records," Clements said. "With the talent that we have this year, I fully expect to have five or six divers in finals at the league meet next year."