NORTON, MA- Successful men's and women's swimming & diving seasons for Wheaton College head coach Jean-Paul Gowdy goes well beyond the scope of dual-meet records or conference championship finishes, as the seventh-year coach is careful not to get too far ahead of himself, especially this time of year.
"Every year is different," said Gowdy, who welcomes the largest squads in program history. "Athletes who had a great year still need to come back this year and prove themselves, as those swimmers and divers don't automatically become great again. Occasionally, I find myself taking a step back and thinking if things come together we could be in a good place at the end of the year."
Wheaton's 28-member women's squad returns to the pool following a year in which the Lyons sent a program-high four athletes to the NCAA Championship, where their relay team earned the team's first All-America accolades, while matching their best finish of third at the 10-school New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Championship. Wheaton went 9-6-1 on the year.
Eighteen athletes on the men's side, including 15 returners, look to better their fifth-place finish at the conference meet, as the Lyons were a mere five points shy of fourth place during the seven-team championship. In dual meets, Wheaton went 4-12 against tough regional competition.
Gowdy, who is joined on the coaching staff by fourth-year diving coach Katy Shoemaker, third-year swimming assistant Mary Ellen McLaughlin, second-year assistant Jim Martin and first-year assistant Zach Hicks '07, believes each of his teams have the potential to surpass last year's success but also recognizes there is more to the experience than getting his athletes to improve.
"With our sport being training-based and knowing the challenges," said the 2009 women's swimming conference coach of the year, "one of the things I work hard at is finding a healthy balance with the teams. If we're to be successful, as much as I want to drive, drive, drive, sometimes I need to pull back a little bit and take some time here or there and do some different activities that the athletes appreciate and keep them mentally in a good place."
Gowdy's work appears to be paying off, as the women welcome back all 19 possible returners from a year ago while the men bring back all but two. Depth won't come into play much for dual meets, but because of the way the conference meet is set up, where there are no limits on squad size or number of scorers, taking a large amount of athletes to the league championships will provide more scoring chances.
"Having a number of athletes at the top of a conference is important, which we've been fortunate to have over the years," said Gowdy, "but the way you win a conference meet is not by just having four or five really fast swimmers, but by having an additional group of swimmers and divers that can score critical points. If you're able to accomplish that, then you should be in good shape. Certainly from that standpoint, we're better off than we've ever been."
Last year, the women came within 19.5 points of second place at the NEWMAC Championship, totaling 640.5 points. The Lyons also turned in their first national placement, finishing in a tie for 48th at the NCAA Championship.
Playing a huge role in Wheaton's national showing were juniors Samantha Farrell (Reading, MA/Reading Memorial), Stephany Perkins (Monmouth, ME/Monmouth Academy), Dania Piscetta (Belmont, NH/Belmont) and Nicole Zais (Sudbury, MA/Lincoln-Sudbury Regional), who earned NCAA All-America honorable mention accolades after taking 14th in the country in the 200-yard freestyle relay. Zais posted a program-record five all-conference marks as a sophomore, Piscetta turned in four, Perkins recorded two, and Farrell had one.
Senior co-captain Iris Meehan (Bar Harbor, ME/Mount Desert Island) produced one all-league placement, as did sophomore Taryn Brosnan (Westford, MA/Academy of Notre Dame). Senior Sarah Houlihan (West Springfield, MA/West Springfield) joins Meehan as a co-captain, as the aforementioned seven athletes have their names attached to 18 school records, including 13 individual marks, as the Lyons broke 21 of 25 program standards last year.
In addition to Houlihan and Meehan, the Class of 2010 consists of Stephanie Conelias (Cheshire, CT/Cheshire), Aurelie Marcotte (Hampden, MA/Minnechaug Regional), diver Maggie Samen (Lexington, MA/Lexington) and Chelsea Stephenson (Cape Elizabeth, ME/Cape Elizabeth).
Wheaton's eight-member junior class is rounded out by diver Emma Chaiken (Bangor, ME/Bangor), Kathleen Dwyer (Barrington, RI/Barrington), Sara Hollar (La Crescenta, CA/Flintridge Prep) and Alisha Wilson (Cumberland, ME/Greely).
Divers Catherine Army (Pomfret, CT/Pomfret), Alexandra Wilson (Suffield, CT/Suffield) and Julia Wright (Pomfret, VT/Northfield Mount Hermon School) join Brosnan and Sarah Miller (Madison, NJ/Madison) in the sophomore class.
The Blue and White's first-year class is comprised of Dana Auger (Milford, MA/Milford), Katie Bordeau (Sanford, ME/Sanford), Kristin Duquette (East Hartford, CT/East Catholic), Vanessa Fuchs (Paris, France/International School of Paris), Caroline Isaacs (San Jose, CA/Archbishop Mitty), Julia Kusiak Carey (Shawmut, ME/Lawrence), Kirstie Parkinson (Singapore, Singapore/Singapore American School), Tarryn Rourk (Trenton, ME/Mount Desert Island) and Elle Van Cott (Delmar, NY/Bethlehem Central).
John Ahern (Boxboro, MA/Acton-Boxboro Regional) is the lone senior on the men's squad, while tri-captains Corey Best (Brentwood, TN/Ravenwood), Sam Dean-Lee (Rocky Hill, CT/Xavier) and Ben Sabol (Saint Petersburg, FL/Shorecrest Prep) comprise half of the six-member junior class, with Best and Dean-Lee serving as captains for the second year. Dean-Lee is the Wheaton record holder in three freestyle events in addition to swimming a leg on the school's top 800-yard freestyle relay team, while Best owns marks in the 200-yard butterfly and 200- and 400-yard individual medleys.
Rounding out the junior class are Zach Fichman-Klein (North Attleboro, MA/North Attleboro), Eddie Gillie (Haverhill, MA/Saint John's Prep) and diver Jonathan Gold (West Harrison, NY/Fordham Prep). Fichman-Klein owns the school's top time in the 100 butterfly, while Gillie joined Dean-Lee on the record 800 free relay team.
Wheaton's largest class is drawn from its group of sophomores, comprised of returners Devon Best (Brentwood, TN/Ravenwood), Dylan Caldwell (Chapel Hill, NC/Emerson Waldorf School), twins Spencer Deans (Redding, CT/Joel Barlow) and Trevor Deans (Redding, CT/Joel Barlow), Alex Hosey (Danville, PA/Wyoming Seminary), Andrew Oliveri (Glastonbury, CT/Glastonbury), Charles Western (Syracuse, NY/Nottingham) and Christian Woods (Claremont, CA/Webb School of California). Devon Best, Corey's younger brother, holds the program mark in the 200-yard backstroke and swam a leg on the record-breaking 800 free relay.
Sophomore Guive Rosen (Cambridge, MA/Cambridge Rindge & Latin School) preps for his initial college season, and the Lyons also welcome freshmen Griffin Hanley (Andover, MA/North Andover) and Sam Neill (Ludlow, MA/Belchertown).
Both squads begin the season today at Roger Williams University before hosting Brandeis University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) on Saturday. In addition to a heavy dual slate, the Lyons will compete at the Charlie Batterman Relays on November 7, the two-day Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Invitational in early December and the Wheaton Invitational in February.
The women travel to Wellesley College for the three-day NEWMAC Championship, beginning on February 19, before Wheaton hosts the men's meet for the second straight season and the fourth time in the last five years the following weekend. The four-day NCAA Championship returns to the University of Minnesota from March 17-20.
"A successful season will be the men and women getting a ton of personal bests," said Gowdy. "If we're getting personal bests we're going to be scoring a lot of points at the conference meets, and if we're scoring a lot of points we're going to give ourselves a great shot to move up on the men's side and contend for a title on the women's side. Last year, our athletes recorded personal bests in more than 90 percent of the events during the NEWMAC meets. If we're up near there again with either team we're going to be in great shape."