Swimmers prepare for 2009-10 season


Although NMU’s Swimming and Diving Team didn’t place well in the conference last year, both coaches and players alike feel this year’s incoming members will be able to add on to last year’s performance.

The team placed eighth out of eight in the GLIAC last season, but head coach Bob Laughna is expecting a much better finish this year.

One of the reasons for optimism this season comes from the talented class of freshman swimmers Laughna was able to recruit this offseason. He has brought in girls from various locations, not only from across the country, but also from across the globe. One freshman diver hails from California, and one of the incoming swimmers is from Israel. The team has 11 new freshman swimmers this year and two new freshman divers.

“We are headed in the right direction,” said Laughna. “If we continue to bring in talented freshman, we will be in good shape.”

Some of the freshman swimmers include breaststroke-specialist Olga Budiansky, freestyle sprinter Kelsey Sipple and mid-distance freestyler Lindsay Stedman.

Returning to the team is senior distance specialist Sarah Cempel, as well as sophomore individual medley-specialists Elyse Sawka and Stephanie Rogaczewski.

Gone from last year’s squad are captains Emily Olson and Lindsay Kuehn. Both consistently brought in points for the team.

Ashley Backman, a senior in her second year with the team and a team captain, also believes the incoming freshman will help improve the program.

“I think we are going to surprise a lot of teams with the talent we have this year,” she said.

Backman is also encouraged by the increased amount of effort put forth within the program during early practice sessions.

“I think that our team this year has a lot more heart,” she said, but also specified that the team doesn’t have an overall best swimmer.

“Just because one person is a good swimmer in one event, it doesn’t mean they are the best all-around swimmer,” she said.

However, Backman doesn’t believe that the swim team is ready to compete with the more accomplished programs in the GLIAC conference at this time. Conference contenders such as Wayne State and Ferris State have larger teams than NMU, and therefore are able to put more competitors
in the pool, leading to higher team scores.

“You just can’t compete,” she said. “It’s pure numbers.”

Last season, the team had 14 members, but has increased the overall swimming team to 19 swimmers this season, giving them a better chance to finish higher in the GLIAC standings.

There are also high expectations of the three divers on the team, including returning National Division II Championship qualifier Kelli Vander Baan, who is taking on a teaching role for the two freshman divers.

Vander Baan narrowly missed qualifying for the National finals in Texas, finishing ninth when only the top eight finishers advanced.

“[She provides] leadership from her previous two years of diving experience at the college level,” said diving coach Andy Ward, “[The three] will provide each other with a friendly competitive spirit which should
make them all better divers in the end.”

The new freshman divers are Kayla Walenta, from Cedarburg, Wisconsin and Ali Black, Aptos, California native, who will try to replace the void left by Kara Vander Baan. She decided not to return this year after two seasons with the team.

“I hope to have all three qualify to compete at Nationals,” Ward said, but knows that accomplishing this goal will be tough.

“There are a lot of talented divers in our conference and this is not going to be an easy goal to accomplish,” he said.

Ward also hopes to attract more recruits in order to improve the diving program and increase competition within the team. Last season, the team only carried two divers.

“More divers bring more competition and a higher quality of diving performance,” he said, “We have a great core to start from, which I hope will help us continue to grow.”

The Wildcats will begin their competitive season on Oct. 17 with the Green and Gold meet. The annual meet pits the athletes against each other in intrasquad, exhibition match-ups.

It will be the only home meet of the 2009-10 season.

The event will be held in the PEIF natatorium beginning at 10 a.m.