SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The UCSB men's swimming and diving season gets underway this Friday when it takes on Utah in a neutral site meet at UCLA. The men were edged out by Utah by just seven points at last years Pac-12 Championships and look to settle the score in the opening meet of the season. The Gauchos finished last year sixth at the Pac-12 Championships, however they completed their first ever undefeated dual meet season in program history.
The Gauchos will look to find a way to replace a very strong senior class led by school record holder and NCAA Championship qualifier Chris Peterson and several U.S. Olympic Trials participants.
"It (replacing the senior class) doesn't come quickly or easily, but we're not without weapons of our own," head coach Gregg Wilson said. "We're hoping that the freshmen last year were able to learn from that senior class and we feel they put themselves in a position to do that."
Two athletes that redshirted last year, senior Tim Freeman and junior Ryan Hanni are back this season. Freeman, a school record holder in the 100 breast (53.90) and 200 breast (1:56.86) will be a very welcome addition back heading into his fifth year. Hanni is a very important freestyle swimmer for the team.
"Freeman can definitely be a game changer for us this year, so we have to get him back into the fold," Wilson said.
Junior Randy Aakhus qualified for the Olympic Trials and holds the second fastest time in school history in the 400 IM (4:38.08). He was named a Mid Major All-American Honorable Mention selection and established himself as one of the top swimmers in the Pac-12 Conference.
"He stands a good chance to break the record this year in the 400 IM," Wilson said. "We have high expectations for him and he can do a lot of different events."
Freshman of the Year last season for the Gauchos, Wade Allen will try to build upon a successful freshman campaign swimming the butterfly, backstroke and freestyle. Fellow sophomore Andrew Barmann will carry the bulk of the distance swims this season.
Many freshmen are expected to come in and contribute right away. Freshman Josh Smith will be stepping into the role left behind by Kevin Ferguson in the backstroke.
"They're both about 6-4, long, lanky and Josh is up for it. He's going to be a very good swimmer," Wilson said.
Andy Castilleja has shown early on that he can make an impact in the breaststroke and the IM. Freshman Mickey Mowry will hope to do the same in the butterfly. Armen Darbinyan has shown he can do well in the 1000 freestyle despite previously not specializing in distance events. This will add to the versatility the Gauchos can display in dual meets.
"There were a couple of very pleasant surprises that I saw in our intrasquad meet," Wilson said. "We have to put them in positions to succeed and feel like they are gaining momentum."
"They are in a much better position to help us out this year than last year," Wilson said. "I'm very encouraged by the whole process."
The men's swimming and diving team takes a lot of new talent and combines it with plenty of experience in what looks to be another successful season.
"We're not without people who can contribute in a number of different ways," Wilson said. "Friday will be a great test for us."