BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh swimming and diving teams will open the 2012-13 season on Friday with a home meet against West Chester at Jacobs Pool. The Mountain Hawks will be looking to build on last season’s momentum after the men finished fourth and the women fifth at the Patriot League Championships.
Head coach Rob Herb begins his ninth season with a number of potential breakout stars as the Mountain Hawks rosters feature 13 newcomers: eight women and five men. The biggest key for Herb and the Mountain Hawks is to build on last season’s successes.
“We had a really good year with our men’s sprint and distance programs, so we will try to keep that momentum going,” Herb said. “The motivation is still there and the new guys are feeling that same kind of energy. The whole men’s team has gotten stronger. The league has gotten stronger too but we have also kept pace.
Herb continued, “With the women’s program, numbers are a little down, but we’re sleek, which is good. It’s pretty clear who is going to swim for us. The freshmen are coming in with a lot of talent. The sophomores have a lot of talent. The leadership from top end has continued to be very strong. On both sides we’re in a position to continue the momentum we had from last year.”
The women’s team will be looking to bounce back after a 4-7 record dual meet record last season. The Mountain Hawks will also be looking to avenge a 174-69 loss to the Golden Rams last year. Lehigh finished 2-3 against Patriot League opponents with wins over Holy Cross and Lafayette
This year’s team is anchored by sophomore Alissa Leung and senior Emily DiDonato. Last season the two athletes were honored as All-Patriot League selections with Leung on the first team as a freshman and DiDonato making the second team. Leung placed third in the 200 yard backstroke with a time of 2:00.60 at the Patriot League Championships and set school records in both the 100 and 200 yard backstroke events. DiDonato also placed third at the championships with a time of 2:20.03 in the 200 yard breaststroke.
“Our women will ride the strength of Alissa Leung,” Herb said. “Her goals are huge and she is willing to train and do what she needs to do. The sophomore class has been really good. Emily DiDonato has come back strong, and then someone like Dani Caruso who has worked real hard. She was more of a depth swimmer in the past but she will have a chance to shine this year.”
This year’s women’s team will feature a wealth of young talent as it boasts 13 freshmen and sophomores on its 21 women roster.
“We have a lot of similar talent among our freshmen and sophomore women,” Herb said. “Melissa Feeney is probably the most diverse. She’ll swim IM and breaststroke, but she’ll see time everywhere. Rebekah Camp has been a very strong end-of-year swimmer, but she’s never had a lot of competition early in the season. Carolyn Koch is just a flat-out racer, and Courtney Patterson is probably one of the strongest swimmers we’ve ever seen come in. The nice thing within our time is the swimmers all complement one another. Instead of having one woman per event we have two who are really strong. They’ll be competing against each other and pushing to win races.”
Last season the Lehigh men compiled a record of 7-4. The team opened the season winning their first seven meets including a 136.5-106.5 victory over West Chester.
The strength of the Mountain Hawks men’s team lays in its sprinters, with senior Frank Cuzzola and juniors Chris Hoke and Demetri Karedis leading the way. Cuzzola and Hoke were part of the 400 yard free relay team that set a school record at last year’s Patriot League Championships.
Lehigh is young on the men’s side as well with 15 freshmen and sophomores among the 22 athletes on the roster. The Mountain Hawks will also be strong in the distance freestyle events, with sophomore Danny Bennett leading the way following an exceptional freshman season where he was a bronze medalist at the Patriot League Championships in the 1650 freestyle.
“Guys like Demetri, Chris, Frank and Matt Chrzanowski will be our leaders on the men’s side,” Herb explains. “Our distance program has really blossomed. Danny Bennett was third in the mile last year and Jake Greene will be there too. We have freshmen like Jake Hassel and Jeff Donovin who we’re excited about. We can’t wait to see how they do.”
On the diving boards, Lehigh is low on numbers with junior Mercy Du representing the women and sophomore Dan Bateman representing the men.
“Dan Bateman has really put a lot of effort into his diving,” Herb said. “He went to Indiana this summer to work out. He has really improved a lot. He’s made huge strides and has become a really good team leader. We’re rebuilding a bit there, but he’s a good leader.”
The early portion of Lehigh’s schedule is loaded with tough tests. Prior to the annual rivalry meet at Lafayette on November 16, Lehigh will compete at the tough Princeton Invitational November 9-10 in New Jersey. Select swimmers will also compete at the U.S. Winter Nationals November 29-December 1 in Austin, Texas. The spring semester portion of the schedule features home meets with Army (January 11) and Drexel (February 2), and a pair of visits to Lewisburg, Pa. which will also be the site of the Patriot League Championships.
Herb expects a close meet on both sides when the Mountain Hawks and Golden Rams tangle Friday night.
“We’re down a couple women on the women’s side,” Herb said. “The women’s meet should be close the whole way through. With Mercy being the only diver we’ll have to make up the deficit quickly. The men are in a similar position with two holes in the lineup. Both meets will be closely contested. It may come down to whoever is hungrier.”
Friday’s Lehigh-West Chester meet is set for a 6 p.m. start from Lehigh’s Jacobs Pool.
Story written with assistance from Josh Fitch ‘13