BALTIMORE – The UMBC swimming and diving teams begin their seasons this Saturday when the men and women travel to New Jersey to face Rider in the first regular season dual meet. Both teams are coming off America East championships from a year ago and look poised for another run this year.
Coach Chad Cradock returns for his eleventh year in charge of the Retrievers, looking to add more awards to his resume. Under Cradock, the men have claimed ten straight conference titles and while the women have won five championships in his time in Baltimore.
Confident in both teams to compete at a high level again this year, Cradock believes his squads this year could have the best depth of any team he has coached. "I'm most excited this year about our depth, a quality that we've rarely had, at least to this extent. Usually we feature more top end athletes, but this year, from top to bottom on both sides, we have a great group."
After regaining the America East crown for the third time in five years, the women's team is now on the hunt for a repeat. Senior captains Abbey McKenney (Wilmington, Del./Brandywine), Laura Tilman (Miami, Fla/Ransom Everglades), and Ashley Miller (New Smyrna Beach, Fla./New Smyrna Beach) all return to lead a deep and versatile squad. McKenney, last season's America East Most Outstanding Female Swimmer, looks to repeat as conference champ in the 50-yard free.
Although the dynamics of the conference are changing a little bit, Coach Cradock believes that the goal of attaining an America East championship has not changed, and is within reach once again. "Due to the depth and leadership that we bring back, we have the ability to once again reach our goal of winning the conference."
Junior Jenn Kotonias (Burtonsville, Md./Academy of Holy Cross) will be looked upon to lead the Retrievers in the IM and juniors Claire Barron (Lowestoft, England/Benjamin Britten/New Orleans) and Elise Blaschke (Sewell, N.J./Bishop Eustace Prep) will be leaders in the breaststroke.
Despite the loss of a few key swimmers, the men's team is set for a run at its 11th consecutive conference title. Senior swimmers Ben Wolbert (Finksburg, Md./Westminster) and John Mendenhall (Cherry Hill, N.J./Cherry Hill East) along with junior diver Andrew Eckhoff (Chelmsford, Mass./Chelmsford) have been given the duty of leading the Retrievers to continued success.
But while Cradock is confident in his captains, he thinks that the men will see success because of a team that is full of leaders. "This year it's not just the captains that are picking up the team. More guys are taking on the responsibility of leadership which is exciting to see."
Sophomore Johan Rohtla (Tallinn, Estonia/Tallinn Secondary Science), last year's America East 200-yard backstroke champion will be a stalwart for the Retrievers while junior Pierre De Waal (Pretoria, South Africa/Tuks Sport/Cleveland State) looks to add another win in the 500-yard free to his name.
In addition to Mendenhall, UMBC will look to sophomore Patrick Husson (Camp Springs, Md./DeMatha) in the breaststroke while freshman Lauri Kaei (Harjurmaa, Estonia/Tallinn Secondary Science) will be a contender in the freestyle and backstroke.
This year's schedule will look a little different from past years with new teams such as Loyola, Penn, and LaSalle on the slate. Coach Cradock sees the addition of these new programs, in combination with a few old rivals as a good way to excite the athletes. "The team is always excited to swim against Maryland, but the addition of the other teams provides us unique opportunities with new experiences."
Both teams kickoff the regular season this Saturday at Rider with the meet starting at 1:00 p.m. Last season the Retrievers swept the Broncs at the UMBC Natatorium with the men picking up a 162-126 win and the women winning 174-100.