2007-08 Swimming and Diving Preview
Sept. 25, 2007
HOUSTON - Fresh off its seventh consecutive season among the Top 25 leaders at the NCAA Championships, the University of Houston swimming and diving team looks to extend that streak and rise even higher in 2007-08.
The Cougars, who return 11 letterwinners from last season's squad, welcome seven award-winning newcomers to the program. UH also set a school single-season record with 18 dual-meet wins, doubling the previous record.
A year ago, the Cougars finished fourth at the Conference USA Championship as junior Andrea Pa'mai won the 400-yard individual medley for the second straight season and sophomore Jessica Shamburger captured the 100-yard backstroke crown during her first league meet.
The Cougar swimmers will be heavily counted upon this season as the UH diving program could be without its top two competitors this season. Both Anastasia Pozdniakova and senior captain Ginni van Katwijk could sit out the entire 2007-08 campaign as they train to represent their respective countries during the 2008 Olympic Games.
But, if the early signs are any indication, the 2007-08 season could be one of the best yet, according to head coach Mark Taylor.
"The team looks like it is ready to go. Some of them have already been training on their own to get themsleves ready," said Taylor, who begins his sixth year at UH. "They are in better shape this year than they were last year. Many of them have taken it upon themselves to keep themselves in shape all year long."
Schwendenwein was among the Cougars' steadiest performers a year ago and should emerge as a team leader in 2007-08.
The Randburg, South Africa, native posted UH season-best times in the 100-, 200- and 500-yard freestyle events while adding her name to the Cougar records book in all three events.
Schwendenwein also was a key member in relay events, earning four All-Conference honors in the 400- and 800-yard freestyle relays as well as the 200- and 400-yard medley relays.
Pa'lmai is another regular in the Cougar lineup in the distance events. A year ago, the Budapest, Hungary, native recorded the Cougars' fastest season times in both the 1,000- and 1,650-yard freestyle events, finishing at least 30 seconds ahead of her closest competitor in both events.
Like Schwendenwein, Pa'lmai was a key member in relay events with All-Conference USA recognition in the 400- and 800-yard freestyle relays and the 400-yard medley relay.
Shamburger should be another weapon for the Cougars in the sprint freestyle after a year of experience under her belt.
Competing in her first collegiate season in 2006-07, Shamburger led all Cougars with a time of 24.01 in the 50-yard freestyle, the seventh-fastest time in school history.
Polotzek joined the Cougars at the semester break in 2007 and was a valuable resource in the sprint freestyle events. The Essen, Germany, native also was a member of the Cougars' All-Conference USA 200-yard medley relay team.
Vaiana is the only senior swimmer in 2007-08 and will be looked to for leadership, both in and out of the water.
A year ago, Vaiana proved to be a versatile swimmer, posting the second-best times among all Cougar swimmers in the 100-, 200- and 1,000-yard freestyle events.
Linda Fox returns for her sophomore season and will add considerable depth in all freestyle events.
Last season, MacLeod posted the Cougars' second-fastest times in both the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke events.
Polotzek did not compete regularly in this event a year ago but should see considerable time in the water in this event in 2007-08.
A year ago, the Spring native captured the 100-yard backstroke title at the C-USA Championship and was a member of three All-Conference USA relay teams.
Her time of 56.36 at that meet was the second-fastest time in UH history and set a Campus Recreation & Wellness Center Natatorium record by a Cougar swimmer.
For her impressive accomplishments, Shamburger was honored as the C-USA Freshman Swimmer of the Year, a first in program history.
While Shamburger dominated the 100-yard event, Pa'lmai was the Cougar leader in the 200-yard event. She posted the Cougars' nine fastest times in that event and finished as the runner-up at the C-USA meet.
Freshman Paige Bissett joins Copeland and Johnson as the newcomers in the Cougar backstroke corps.
Schwendenwein is the Cougars' leading performer in the 100-yard event, while Polotzek topped UH in the 200-yard event.
Hall returns for her junior season and should add considerable depth in this event. Andrea Kells is the lone newcomer for the Cougars in the butterfly events and will add depth.
She recorded the Cougars' seven fastest times in the longer event and will again be a force to be reckoned with in C-USA.
Kelly and MacLeod were regular competitors in these events during their first collegiate season and will benefit from that year of experience in 2007-08.
Under the leadership of diving head coach Jane Figueiredo - who enters her 18th season at Houston - Cougar divers always are well represented at the NCAA Championships.
However, the team will be changed this season with the temporary loss of the top two returnees.
Pozdniakova and van Katwijk are expected to sit out the year as they prepare to qualify for and represent their respective countries at the 2008 Olympic Games.
With that in mind, two freshmen -- Courtney Forcucci and Lacey Truelove -- could very well represent the entire Cougar diving team in 2007-08. Although both divers are young and inexperienced at the collegiate level, Figueiredo said she would not have brought the divers into the program if she believed they could not handle the challenge.
"We knew there was a chance that Ginni and Nastia weren't gong to compete, so we had to bring in some people that were going to be able to step right in," Figueiredo said. "I don't want to recruit someone and wait for four years."
Competing during her first collegiate season, Forcucci is unlike most freshmen after gaining plenty of experience through Junior Olympics competition.
Truelove possesses great tools for diving and gives the team a true platform specialist.
While each diver may go through some ups and downs during their freshmen seasons, Figueiredo is confident about their chances for success in their first year at UH.
"With freshmen, you always make a lot of changes. They are young and they don't know what this is all about," Figueiredo said. " It's going to be tough at times, but they can do it."
With a year of experience under their belt, more of the same will be expected.
Pozdniakova finished as the national runner-up on the 3-meter springboard at the NCAA meet and received All-America accolades in the 1-meter event.
A five-time C-USA Diver of the Week recipient, Pozdniakova swept both springboard events at the C-USA Championship and captured both titles at the NCAA Zone D meet to qualify for the NCAA postseason.
She was an easy selection as both the C-USA Diver of the Year and C-USA Diver of the Meet.
van Katwijk was a newcomer to the Cougar program a year ago but wasted little time in making her impact felt.
The Grootebroek, Netherlands, native was named the C-USA Diver of the Week in late January and joined Pozdniakova as the only competitors to finish among the Top Three leaders in all events at the C-USA Championship.
After finishing third on the 3-meter board at the NCAA Zone D meet, van Katwijk qualified for the NCAA Championship, where she finished second in the consolation finals on the platform. With that impressive showing, she also earned her first All-America honor.
van Katwijk was the latest Cougar diver to earn a C-USA postseason award, claiming the league's first Newcomer of the Year honor in 2007.
Watching over the divers will be Figuieredo, who continues to add to her impressive resume each season. In 2006-07, her divers were named C-USA Diver of the Year, C-USA Diver of the Meet and C-USA Newcomer of the Year.
With an impressive arsenal like that, Figueiredo was honored as the C-USA Diving Coach of the Year for the sixth straight season, making her the only league coach to win that award.
The home schedule includes meets against Rice and LSU (Jan. 25-26) and New Orleans (Feb. 2). The Cougars also will play host to the Phil Hansel Duals Weekend for the second straight season on Oct. 26-27 with Rice, BYU, Florida International and New Orleans scheduled to visit the CRWC Natatorium.
On the diving side, the Cougars will welcome top divers to Houston on Nov. 15-17 for the Houston Diving Invitational.
On the road, the Cougars will compete against Southwestern (Oct. 12), Miami (Fla.) and Indian River Community College - which has won 32 straight NJCAA championships entering 2007-08 - (Nov. 3) North Texas (Jan. 18), SMU (Jan. 19) and Texas A&M (Feb. 1).
The Cougar swimmers will compete at the Miami (Ohio) Invitational on Nov. 29-Dec. 1, while the divers will take part at the Texas Invitational on Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
For the fifth consecutive season, the Cougars will play host to the Conference USA Championship on Feb. 27-March 1 at the CRWC Natatorium.
Houston is the only C-USA school to host the league's annual postseason event at an on-campus site.
The Cougars also will play host to the NCAA Zone D meet on March 14-16 at the CRWC Natatorium. This marks the second time and the first time since 2004 that the Cougars will welcome some of the nation's top collegiate divers to the Bayou City.
The season culminates with the 2008 NCAA Championships, hosted by Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, on March 20-22.