Women swimmers start the season on fire, men still wet behind the ears

It’s been a tale of two genders for the U swimming and diving teams this season.

The women have gotten off to a torrid 4-0 start, including two victories over tough conference opponents, while the men have struggled to a 1-2 start, including a heartbreaking loss to a talented UNLV squad.

Both teams are taking their talent to Indiana University this weekend, where they will measure their skill in competition against some of the best teams in the nation. Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Toledo, Miami of Ohio and Utah will swim and dive under the same roof for three straight days.

“I am very excited to take our team to the Indiana Invitational,” U head coach Mike Litzinger said. “It’s an opportunity to swim a prelims/finals format against some of the premier teams in the country. Both of our squads will need to compete at a high level to succeed at this meet, and I am confident that we will have a solid showing.”

A strong performance in this meet will encourage the focus of a national spotlight on Utah’s swimming program, and will help recruiting efforts for years. Litzinger is confident that both teams will perform at a high level this weekend, even without a special focus being placed on the meet.

“Traditionally, most teams peak for a competition like this, but we as a coaching staff and team made the decision to continue to train hard through it,” Litzinger said. “Our goals lie in front of us, in the heart of the MWC season, at the conference championships and ultimately the NCAAs.”

Despite a slow start in the victory column for the men, both teams are well- prepared for a run at the conference title. The men’s team has performed well in all three of their meets, but inconsistency from some of the younger swimmers has cost them wins.

“Our older guys are performing great,” Litzinger said. “We just need to bring our younger guys along, which we will.”

The top performers for the men are the same swimmers who led the men to their surprise season last year. Cody Rempfer, Andrew Cole, Evan Castro and Jonathan Larsen have been carrying the Utes this year, much like they did a year ago.

At UNLV, a meet the men lost 116-125, Rempfer won the 200 butterfly and the 200 individual medley, Larsen won the 50 freestyle and Cole won the 200 backstroke.

They eventually lost the meet despite winning seven of 13 events, after UNLV finished first in the final relay event.

The men rebounded in the following meet against Denver, however, in a convincing 213-121 win. Rempfer, Cole, Castro, Larsen, Matan Ratz and Nick Galen all won events in the team’s first win of the season.

Diver Sterling Richards has also been helping his team a great deal this season. He’s won all three 3-meter competitions, and has won the 1-meter competition twice. His return to top form this season has already earned him two MWC diver of the week awards.

“We’re poised to compete for the conference championship, and make a splash on the national level,” Litzinger said. “Our goals have changed from fielding a competitive team to competing for the conference championship, and be nationally ranked on a consistent level.”

The goals are the same for the women’s team, which has already showcased a great deal of ability and promise in its 4-0 start.

Eleven different swimmers have won individual events for the Utes this year, and at least one of their relay teams has won in each meet.

The team is led by swimmers Amy Barefield, Marta Stepanczuk, Alison McInturff and Rachel Curci, all of whom have won at least one event this season.

“Amy’s done a tremendous job taking the reins of our sprint group, and we’ll look to her to lead our sprinters,” Litzinger said. “Allison McInturff will provide support as she aims to improve on a solid freshman season.”

This is essentially the same squad that finished 9-2 last season, but suffered in the MWC tournament for lack of a diving team. This season, sophomore Kelsey Patterson and freshman Keira Higbee lead the women’s diving team, which has earned the Utes a total of 83 points. Much of that total comes from Patterson’s eight wins in eight events.

“This women’s team is the best I’ve seen since I’ve joined the Utes,” said diving coach Rachel Degener. “Kelsey comes to us as a record holder, and we expect the same great results here, and with freshman Keira Higbee, we have a solid group of divers.”

The presence of a diving team has elevated the women’s team from a great swimming team, to a great program.

“The women are out to prove something,” Litzinger said.

“They are well on their way to accomplishing that at the end of the year.”

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