Stanford men’s swimming and diving was among the top teams in the nation last season, taking third at the NCAA championships. This year, with a new coaching staff, the Cardinal will look to maintain its status as an elite program and build on last season’s successes.
Although he’s new in his role as head coach, Ted Knapp is anything but a stranger when it comes to Stanford swimming and diving. For 28 years he served as assistant coach under Hall of Famer Skip Kenney, who retired at the end of last season.
“The transition has been pretty exciting,” Knapp said, “for the most part because I feel like I’ve been well prepared by Skip Kenney, my predecessor.” He also credits his “great staff,” which he expects to “add some great energy and innovation.”
Some coaches might feel intimidated when moving to the helm of such a powerful program. Knapp, however, is “fired up” and has appeared cool and confident so far in the role. Looking ahead to the upcoming season, he emphasized that “winning is certainly a goal as a team,” and that individual goals are a priority as well. “We have several seniors looking to finish up strong.”
Among those contending for individual championships are seniors Aaron Wayne and Andrew Saeta. Wayne made the final in both the 50 and 100-yard freestyle at last year’s NCAA championship and Saeta swam in the finals of the 200 and 400 freestyle relays. Both swimmers are positive about the coaching changes and looking forward to another successful season.
“Everyone is really optimistic. We’re really liking the training that we’re doing under [assistant] coach Scott Armstrong,” Wayne said of the first few weeks of practice.
Saeta attributes much of last year’s success to weight training and is looking forward to positive results as the team focuses more on weights this season. “The entire team is really working on power and strength and I think we’re going to see a lot of benefits from that as the season develops.”
As in any sport, a new season brings about a shuffling of personnel as last year’s seniors are replaced by this year’s freshmen. The Cardinal will certainly miss its graduated senior talent, like distance freestyler Chat La Tourette and butterflyer Robert Bollier, but the team is confident the freshmen will help to pick up the slack, especially Tom Kremer, Gray Umbach, and Danny Thompson, who made up three of the country’s top-ten high school recruits last year.
“It’s a very versatile group,” Knapp said of the freshmen swimmers, “so they can contribute just about everywhere.”
The team chemistry is also starting to come together. Although swimming is a fairly individual sport in nature, anyone involved in the sport will tell you that a team is more than just a group of athletes going out and swimming for themselves.
“We had a training trip to the Olympic Training Center before school started and that really works as a major team bonding experience,” senior Andrew Saeta said.
As the swimmers prepare physically for the meets ahead, the coaches will prepare mentally by strategizing meet lineups, trying to determine who belongs in what event and where the team’s strengths and weaknesses lie. Across the board the Cardinal is, as always, pretty well supplied with talented and elite swimmers, but one strength is definitely the 200 backstroke, which Wayne and Satae call Stanford’s best event. At NCAA championships last season, the Cardinal took second, third and fourth, with then-freshman David Nolan missing first by just hundredths of a second.
The freestyle events will prove a critical point in the meets according to coach Knapp. “We definitely lost a very strong core group of freestylers, everywhere from the 50 and the 100 up to the 1650, so you would think that like those would be our weaker events, but I feel we have the talent to move up and replace some of those lost points.”
One potential weakness for Stanford is the breaststroke. The team’s best breaststroker, Curtis Lovelace, graduated last year, but Knapp still feels that he has “some people that can step up and surprise us a little bit, and maybe surprise the rest of the country.”
That chance to surprise has all but arrived. While the Pac-12 and NCAA Championships won’t be held until March, this Saturday the Cardinal will head to Stockton for the Pacific Invitation, the team’s first meet. Stanford is also set to face the University of Wisconsin — a perennial contender at NCAAs — at a home duel meet November 2nd.