October 28, 1998
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Amidst all of the publicity surrounding this weekend's football game and the first practices for both men's and women's basketball teams, another group of excellent student-athletes will be in action Friday and Saturday. The Purdue men's and women's swimming and diving teams begin their 1998-99 campaign Friday night at 4:00 p.m. and the women continue on Saturday in their Big Ten opener as they host the Iowa Hawkeyes. Friday, the annual Vincennes exhibition meet will reveal a talented group of returnees for both the men and women combined with their respected freshmen classes, which are extremely impressive.
"Great things don't come easily" is the motto for the 1998-99 Purdue women's swimming and diving team. Coach Cathy Wright-Eger, in her 12th year at Purdue, has seven seniors who have a vision of success for their final year; a vision they are prepared to work for to make it real.
"This is a no frills senior class," Wright-Eger says. "They are a blue-collar group that leads by example and their main goal is to work hard and improve everyday. There is a real love and pride in Purdue and especially in the team."
The magnificent seven has enjoyed academic and athletic success at Purdue. Keep your eye out for Erika Whyte (sprint free and fly) and Tracy Storrier (breaststroke) who both have placed in the top eight at the Big Ten's in the past. Kathy Barker, also a senior, is developing into Purdue's best backstroker.
"Erika, the school record-holder in the 50 and 100 freestyle, came to Purdue and started out her career with a bang," Wright-Eger says. "Right now she is poised and ready to end her career on the same note. You can see it in her eyes."
The junior class has developed a super work ethic and will need to train and compete consistently in order to make this year their best. Junior Nikki Lively is on the verge of becoming one of Purdue's finest sprint freestylers. In 1997, she ranked third on the squad in 100 free (52.05) and fourth in the 50 free (24.22) behind Erika Whyte, Gynogyver Lakos and graduating senior Heather Murry.
The very talented sophomore class is ready to go full steam ahead after a year of adjustments to classes and training. Sophomores Gynogyver Lakos (freestyle) and Kara Hajek (diving) both scored at Big Ten's as freshmen and Wright-Eger looks for both to turn it up a notch as sophomores.
"Last year Gynogyver came here late and really wasn't pushed in practice," Wright-Eger says. "It took her awhile to adjust, so we expect everything to be in place and her to have a great season."
On the diving boards, sophomore Hajek is coming off a varsity record-setting freshman year and is just now beginning to realize her potential. Diving coach Jim Mountjoy sees Hajek developing into one of the conference's finest. Freshman Molly McFarlane gives Purdue depth with national experience.
"Right now Kara is diving phenomenally," Mountjoy says. "She is very focused and determined, and I see a very bright future for her. Last summer, Hajek helped her summer swim team to a national title.
The freshman class of eight is loaded with Junior National experience and a lot of potential. Blue chip butterflyer Karin Stender should make an immediate impact for the Boilers.
"Our freshman class is not afraid to take charge," Wright-Eger says. "They are out there pushing the upperclassmen and giving them everything they can handle."
With Marisa Watts graduating from the team, the coaches are anxious to see who will step up and take over the leadership roles in and out of the water. Last year, Purdue placed 31st at the NCAA's behind Marisa Watts' honorable mention All-American performance. The team hopes to get back up into the middle of the pack at Big Ten's and stay in the top 35 at the NCAA.
Leading the way for the men is senior Vilmos Kovacs, a three-time All-American and the three-time defending Big Ten Champion in the 200 breaststroke. His best time in the 200 breaststroke is faster than the fastest returning in the NCAA this year and Kovacs has twice finished third at the NCAA Championships (1995-96 and 1996-97) in the 200 breaststroke.
"This year Vilmos is right on track to become the most decorated Purdue swimmer of all time," men's coach Dan Ross says. "His record speaks for itself. He has five total Big Ten Championships including the first ever relay in 1997."
Next month, Vilmos, a unanimous choice, along with other Big Ten All-Star swimmers will compete against the National Swim Team in an exhibition meet.
"We have a team this year that is very enthusiastic and an extremely hard-working group," Ross says. "They are very competitive with each other, especially in practice. They are always looking to try and do whatever it takes to push each other to the very edge."
There are eight seniors on this year's men's team and they hope to build off last year's success. The 1997-98 season turned out to be one of the finest in the history of Purdue swimming. Twelve dual meet wins tied the school record set in 1974, including four over ranked opponents. The Boilermakers also remained in the top 25 for much of the season, reaching as high as 19th. Among the many accomplishments the men's team achieved this year was a 124.5-118.5 victory against Indiana in Bloomington, Ind. The win marked the first time the men's team won at Indiana since 1955.
Kirk Larsen is the other senior captain on the team, and is quietly making his mark in the Big Ten. "I think that Kirk has really made himself a legitimate finalist in the Big Ten," Ross says. "He is leading by example more than words."
Larsen is also going to represent the Big Ten next month at the exhibition meet against the national team. Last year, the Palatine, Ill., native, swam the third leg on the 200 free relay team that placed 14th at the NCAA Championships, scoring six points for Purdue and earning all four members honorable mention All-America honors. He currently ranks second on the all-time Purdue list for the 200 IM (1:53.44) and the 100 free (44.71).
Jeremy Zeid and Mark Kujawski are very much improved since their freshman year, with Kujawski looking to be part of the 200 free relay that finished second at the conference meet. Daniel Kleber looks to be a huge factor in the butterfly events and has a legitimate chance to qualify for the NCAA meet. The last senior is Ryan Morrissey, who for the past three years has scored in the mile and improved his time every year.
All the juniors on this year's squad scored points or swam on the relays at the Big Ten's in 1998. Gerald Koh ranked second on the top performance list last year in the 200 back (1:50.98) and 400 IM (4:00.47). Big things are expected from Koh if the Boilers are going to contend in the Big Ten.
In the sophomore class, David Weis scored in the 50 freestyle at the Big Ten's and is expected to be the go-to guy in this event. Brandon Gustafson placed sixth off the platform and 16th in diving off the 3-meter board at the Big Ten Championships. On the 3-meter board, Gustafson accumulated a personal-high with 409.40 points. That was the first time a Purdue swimmer has scored points in diving at the conference meet in seven years.
"We expect big things from Brandon this year," Mountjoy says. "He has upped his degree of difficulty and has been performing very well in practice." This year's freshmen class has a great chance of bringing great things to the Boilermaker swim program in the pool and in the classroom. High school All-Americans Donovan Crowley and Chris Bonser lead the way to help fill the gap left by graduating senior Frank Smardo.
"On paper this year's freshman class is the best since I have been here," Ross says. "The testament I live by is that a recruiting class is only as good as it is when they are done."
Ross, Wright-Eger and Mountjoty know the 1998-99 season will generate plenty of excitement, and it all begins Friday afternoon against Vincennes at 4:00 p.m.