BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh swimming and diving teams will open the 2011-12 season on Sunday when the Mountain Hawks head to Worcester, Mass. to face Patriot League rival Holy Cross. Rob Herb enters his eighth season with a strong mix of veterans and talented newcomers as the Mountain Hawks enter the new season looking to build on last year’s success.
The Mountain Hawk men are coming off a successful year in which they went 8-2 in dual meets and placed fourth at the Patriot League Championships.
Even with their success in the past few years, Lehigh has begun to rebuild its team with 18 new freshmen that will get the chance to prove themselves for the first time against Division I competition against Holy Cross on Sunday.
The youth of the team is in good hands with a strong group of returning athletes. “We lost some great athletes and leaders, but the leadership and team have stepped it up and will make all others from years past proud,” said Herb.
The Mountain Hawks have five seniors on the men’s side, with Kevin Shoemaker expected to lead the way in the butterfly and individual medley events, Angelo DiGiacinto to be a factor in the back and fly events, Chris Toth to produce big points in distance freestyle and Jared Blacker in the breaststroke events. Diver Connor Styles rounds out the five men’s seniors and will lead a diving squad that saw both he and junior Mike Harshman score points at last year’s Patriot League Championships.
Others to watch for Lehigh include junior Alex Aboud, who has set school records in the 400 IM over the last two years, and junior Frank Cuzzola and sophomore transfer Demetri Karedis who should give the Mountain Hawks strength in the sprint events.
Lehigh picked up a 149-89 win at Holy Cross last year and will expect to have similar success this year.
“Our goal is to win the meets,” said Herb. “Our strategy is to put our best against their best and battle it out.”
Although Lehigh aims for a win on Sunday, they will not be satisfied with just that.
“Our expectations are that the team will race hard and start out the season with a lasting frame of mind that will produce historic swims and dives by our athletes,” Herb concluded.
The Lehigh women are coming off a 4-4 dual meet season last year and will be looking to improve upon last year’s sixth place finish at the Patriot League Championships.
The team has added seven new freshmen to the roster and coach Herb is excited to see everyone in action.
“This hard-working group is ready to race until they drop,” Herb said. “The leadership of the team has really prepared the group to make this year something really special.”
Leading the way for Lehigh will be its three six seniors: Lauren Armstrong, Priscilla Barletta, Elizabeth Marchese, Jill Rann, Alyssa Siano and Paola Simon. Barletta, Siano and Simon have all been top scorers for the Mountain Hawks over the last several years. From the junior class the Mountain Hawks return Brooke Smalley, who set a school record in the butterfly at last year’s Patriot League Championships. The sophomores are led by all-around performer Meredith Bayer, who was Lehigh’s top women’s point scorer at last year’s championships.
Lehigh defeated Holy Cross last year in Worcester by a 174-60 score and expects to kick off this season in similar dominating fashion.
Lehigh has set some legitimate goals for their season, specifically in terms of the Patriot League Championship.
“My expectations are to see this team challenge any team in the league and leave a lasting impression that Lehigh swimming and diving has reached a new level,” Herb said.
In order reach this level, Lehigh will have to remain focused throughout the season in the pool and in the classroom.
“The team is focused, connected and ready!” Herb said. “I feel great going into this season. We have to work harder and more creatively than any other team out there. We strive to be the fittest, fastest and most focused.”
Sunday’s meet will begin at 1 p.m. from the Hart Center Pool. Both the men and women’s teams will compete in their first home meet on October 29 against Colgate in Jacobs Pool.
Other key dates on the Mountain Hawks schedule include the annual Lehigh-Lafayette dual meet, set for Friday, November 18 at Jacobs Pool. Lehigh has swept Lafayette in swimming and diving in each of the last three years. In addition to the Colgate and Lafayette meets, Lehigh will host Rider November 5, Marist on January 7, and Bucknell in the home finale on January 21. The schedule has been bolstered with tough invitational meets hosted by Princeton in November and Navy in late January. Navy will also host the 2012 Patriot League Swimming and Diving Championships, February 15-17 at Lejeune Hall in Annapolis, Md.