Penn State men’s swimming head coach John Hargis says his squad’s success at the upcoming Big Ten championships depends on contributions from everyone, not just the well-known swimmers.
“Where we fall as a team I think will be dictated on a lot of the guys from ninth to 16th place,” Hargis said. “Our very, very good guys, we know where they will be. It’s going to be those guys that no one knows their name. Those are the guys that will help us get to the top-three position.”
The swimmers Hargis is referring to are team members like Will Lee, Max Byers and Seth Wensel, among others, who haven’t grabbed the spotlight like Sean Grier, Matt Salig and Shane Ryan.
The Big Ten men’s swimming and diving championships are set to begin Wednesday and run through Saturday at Indiana’s Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center.
Junior swimmer Chris Cipolla, who competes in the 200-yard breaststroke and 400-yard individual medley, said he thinks this year’s men’s squad will make some noise at the event. “This year, with the group of guys we have, we’re just a lot deeper than we have been in the past,” said Cipolla, who is one of the team’s captains. “The chemistry on the team is great, and I think we’re really going to turn some heads when we get to Big 10’s.”
One swimmer to watch is sophomore Nick Ankosko. The East Brunswick, N.J., native set two school records last year in the Big Ten meet with times of 9:04.51 in the 1,000-yard freestyle and 15:05:32 in 1,650-yard freestyle. This year Ankosko wants even lower times.
“Personally, I would like to set all new records,” Ankosko said. “I already have the mile and 1,000 from last year. I would like to make those faster and also get the 500 (freestyle) this year for sure.”
Penn State finished sixth last year. Grier, a junior, said a top-three finish is possible because of the wealth of talent on this year’s squad.
“We had a pretty young team last year, only graduating a couple,” Grier said. “Especially with the freshman class we have, plus the four transfers from Maryland we have a lot of new talent this year, and I think top three is definitely realistic.”
The transfers Grier referred to are juniors John Hauser and Peter Fittin and sophomores Kyle Madley and Ryan Magee. They transferred from the University of Maryland in the summer after the school cut its men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs.
The event kicks off Wednesday with the 200 medley relay and the 800 freestyle relay. Relays are important no matter the meet, but during championship season they take on more meaning. If a swimmer wins an individual event 20 points go to the team, but winning a relay nets 40 points.
Getting off to a good start in the relays is crucial.
“Obviously, if we get off to a great start it’s going to help get a sense of the flow of the meet a little bit and give confidence to the group,” Hargis said. “I think that will help propel the team forward. I’ve always said fast swimming produces fast swimming and what I mean by that is when kids on the side are watching other people swim really fast they’re more inclined to swim really fast.”
The 24th-ranked Nittany Lions will encounter stiff competition as Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State, Minnesota and Iowa are ranked 3rd, 8th, 13th, 14th and 20th, respectively.
Hargis knows it’s going to be an uphill battle to finish in the top three but, more importantly, his goal for the championships is for the team to make progress.
“We just want improvements, and break school records, and get as many kids as we can to NCAAs — that’s the goal,” Hargis said. “There are a lot of really good teams in the Big Ten, so for us to be a top-three team, we’re going to be beating some very good ones. I think if everything goes as planned and everybody does their part, the opportunity is there.”
Tom Zulewski is a Penn State journalism student.