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UA swimming teams to build on greatness

By Keith Carmona
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 30, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Senior Diana Groff swims in a meet earlier this year against Arizona State. The UA women's swimming team finished their season with a fourth place finish at the NCAA championships with the men finishing in the top five as well.

The Arizona men's and women's swimming teams finished their seasons both ranked in the top-five, with team captain Ryk Neethling named as the NCAA Swimmer of the Year, four individual titles overall and an "ecstatic" attitude about next season.

"The weekend at the (men's) NCAA competition was amazing," head coach Frank Busch said. "We were able to come together and function as one unit."

The spotlight through the entire championship weekend was stolen by Neethling, who repeated as champion in the 200-yard freestyle, 500 free and 1,650 free en route to becoming just the eighth swimmer to record three victories in two consecutive NCAA meets.

"Never in my dreams did I ever expect to capture this many titles," Neethling said. "I am going to keep on working and hopefully next year I can repeat, maybe do even better."

Since his freshman year at UA, Neethling has captured seven individual championships.

"Ryk's performance was phenomenal," Busch said. "Whenever he's is swimming, all eyes are on him because he is simply amazing."

Busch said Neethling's performance not only gave the Wildcats a jump in points, the emotion surrounding each of his events inspired the other swimmers to swim faster than they ever have.

"It was like that the entire year," Busch said. "Having Ryk as a leader gives us a distinct advantage entering into any meet."

Before the NCAA Championships, the Arizona men placed fourth at the Pacific 10 Conference Championships, again led by Neethling, who won the 500 free and 1,650 free titles.

In dual-meets, the men's squad swam to a 3-7 record, falling in all four conference outings.

The dual meet season was just preparation for the NCAA Championships, Busch said earlier in the year, and added he was not concerned with the final outcomes of those meets, just as long as his swimmers were getting better and preparing themselves for the national championships.

Before the NCAA competition, Busch said he saw the men's team as the strongest group of swimmers the UA has ever seen. That same group that came home placing fifth in the nation is not graduating any seniors and has its eyes set on the national crown for the 1999-2000 season.

"Our goal going into next season has got to be the NCAA title," freshman Roland Schoeman said. "We have the talent to do it, and are not losing any of the point scorers from this competition."

Schoeman broke a school record last weekend in the 100 free with a time of 42.88 seconds.

"The team right now has a tremendous amount of spirit," he said. "We all back each other up, it's just like we're a family."

The women's swimming team finished the dual-meet season 10-1, the best an Arizona squad has ever done. The women followed up that performance with a fourth place finish at both Pac-10 Championships and national championships.

"It was a bit of a disappointment," junior Denali Knapp said. "Going in, we wanted to give Georgia a run for the (NCAA) title and we didn't."

Knapp attributes what she called an "underachieving performance" to the lack of experience of some of the swimmers and that many of her teammates were just recovering from being sick.

"Nearly half of our team were freshmen," Knapp said. "Just a bit of experience can make a difference in a race."

The Arizona women did exit the meet with a national championship in the 400 free relay. The UA team of sophomore Lindsey Farella, Knapp and freshmen Emily Mastin and Sarah Tolar recorded Arizona's second straight championship in the event with a time of 3:16.49.

Knapp said she is looking forward to next year when she thinks the UA women will dominate in many events.

"Some of the girls hadn't competed in a meet like this, but now that they have we are out for blood next year," Knapp said. "In full force, we are going to have vengeance in us and compete for the national title."

One of the most impressive accomplishments for the Wildcats came Jan. 21. The then-No. 3-ranked UA women upset last year's national runner-up Stanford Cardinal by a margin of 182-112. At the meet, the Arizona women won the 400 medley relay and finished 1-2-3 in the 1,000 freestyle, 100 breaststroke, 200 butterfly and 100 free.

"This season was a good one," Knapp said. "But all the girls would agree that we are ecstatic about the opportunities for Arizona swimming next year."