Feb. 26, 1997

Kovacs, Brown to Defend Big Ten Swim Titles

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Minnesota and Michigan are heavy favorites at the Big Ten men's swimming and diving championships which will begin Thursday. Preliminaries are scheduled for 11 am. and finals at 7 p.m. over the three-day event.

The defending champion Golden Gophers and Wolverines currently rank Nos. 9 and 6, respectively, in the Speedo America Coaches Swim Poll. Five other conference schools have cracked the national rankings: Indiana (22nd), Ohio State (23rd) Purdue (24th), Iowa (32nd) and Penn State (34th).

"We were sixth last year, and if we don't move up, our team will be really disappointed because we're much stronger this year," Coach Dan Ross said. "Matt (Brown) and Willy (Vilmos Kovacs) will score some big points. But I can honestly say that every one of our swimmers going to the meet can score. That's never happened, but I just feel we have the quality numbers as far as depth that we haven't had in the past."

Purdue senior tri-captain Matt Brown and sophomore Vilmos "Willy" Kovacs are defending champions in the 400 individual medley and 200 breaststroke, respectively. Here's a look at how the Boilermakers stack up by event:

Junior Mike Ullom ranks first on the PU career charts int he 100 free (45.04) and second in the 50 free (20.44). Classmate frank Smardo qualified for the 50 free finals at last year's big Tens with a time of 20.65, the fifth fastest in school history.

Sophomore Kirk Larsen is the Boliers' other threat in the 100 free, holding a season best time of 45.92. Junior Ross Croasdell has a solid chance to reach the top eight in the 200 free. Freshman Kevin Cornehl, who has been a pleasant surprise in his first year, has a chance to score in the 100 and 200 free.

"We are strong int he 50, 100 and 200 freestyle and need to score as many point in those events as possible," Ross said. "Our junior class of Ross (Croasdell), Mike (Ullom) and Frank (Smardo) plus our underclassmen Kirk (Larsen) and Kevin (Cornehl) gives us a lot more depth than last year." Croasdell will also swim the 500 free, but his chances of scoring are slim. Sophomore Ryan Morrissey is the Boliers' top distance freestyler. He placed 11th in the 1650 free with a time of 15.49.24, the fifth-fastest in school history at last year's conference meet.

"The only swimming event that I think we are going to have trouble scoring points in is the 500 free," Ross said. "Ryan (Morrissey) scored last year and frank came really close to scoring in the mile, so we'll get a couple points there."

On the freestyle relays, Purdue ranks third in the 200 (1:22.93), fifth in the 400 (3:30.38) and 800 (6:45.80) in the Big Ten.

Senior Gene Sutherland, who redshirted last season, was a Big Ten finalist in the 100 and 200 back in 1995. He ranks third all-time at Purdue in both the 100 (50.20) and 200 (1:47.44).

Freshman Singapore Olympian Gerald Koh adds depth. He has season-best times of 412.52 in the 100 and 1:53.01 in the 200. Senior tri-captain Scott Batzer and Cornehl will also swim backstroke.

"Having Gene Sutherland back after a year off really helps our team because we don't have to swim Matt (Brown) in either the 100 or 200 back, we can let him go for big points in the IM's and 200 breaststroke.

"We're all county on Gene (Sutherland) to do well. He has the experience of being in two conference finals, but I'll tell you that the backstroke is one of the toughest events at Big Tens this year."

Kovacs is the reigning 200 breast champion and conference runner-up in the 100-yard. The Tatabanya, Hungary, native, who earned All-America honors in both distances at last year's NCAA Championships, currently holds the nation's top mark in the 200 breast (1:57.70) and fourth int he 100 breast (54.95). both times are ranked going into the conference meet. Also, he holds the school record in both events.

Brown, who was Purdue MVP in 1996, will swim the 200 breast in the hopes of getting the Boilermakers a 1-2 finish.

"Last year we tried to rest Willy and it didn't work out," Ross said. "This year we're not resting him at all. The neat thing about both Willy and Matt is that they are our two best swimmers and leaders. They both really want the team to do well. and with those two leading and everyone else following, that hopefully will work out well for the team."

Freshman Grandon Spence (Rensselaer High School), junior Jason Ozias and sophomore Larry Becker also have excellent chances of scoring.

"Our depth in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke is just outstanding, and I'm hoping for a bunch of points in both events," Ross said.

U.S. Olympic silver medalist Tom Malchow (Michigan) is the heavy favor int he 200 fly. He holds the conference's top time at 1:46.62, over three seconds ahead of the nearest conference foe.

Purdue sophomore Dan Kleber currently ranks ninth in the conference with a 200 time of 1;51.14. Koh, who has a season-best time of 1:52.43 will also swim the 200 fly. Smardo, who has a season best of 51.11 in the 100, or Brown will swim the fly leg on the medley relays.

"Dan Kleber should score in both fly events, while Frank Smardo could in the 100 fly; but after that, everything is a bonus," Ross said.

Individual Medley
Brown is the reigning 400 IM champion after touching int he 3:49.75 in Ann Arbor last year. Also last year, the Fort Dodge, Iowa native was runner-up in the 20-yard with a quick time of 1:49.25. He was an honorable mention All-American in both events last year and currently ranks first (400 IM) and second (200 IM) in the Big Ten.

"Matt Brown has an outstanding chance to do outstanding in both IM events," Ross said. "He has the experience from being through three Big Ten's, a couple of NCAA's and an Olympic Trials meet. So, I look for him to do well and be our leader."

Kovacs, the Big Ten Freshman-of-the-Year in 1996, finished third in the 200 IM with a time of 1:49.54. He currently ranks third with a season-best of 1:50.52.

Koh, who swam both IM events at the Olympics, is also a solid candidate to score.

Freshman Brandon Gustafson is the Boilermakers' top hopeful. any points from this category would be a huge surprise. "Our divers just lack experience," Ross said. "Any scoring from the is a bonus." Junior Dan Moll and Dan Schunk round out the diving corps.


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