SEASON PREVIEW: Larger teams have Bearcat swimmers optimistic for 2002-03 season

The biggest problem for the Willamette University swim teams this year may be overcrowding in the swim lanes. After having one of the Northwest Conference’s smallest squads last year, the Bearcats will have a full squad this year with the addition of 12 freshmen and a solid core of experienced swimmers.

“With a bigger squad, we are much more versatile. The kids seem to be coming together as a team and with so many more kids in the water, we’re going to be a much better overall team,” said head coach Al Stephenson, now in his sixth year as the Bearcats’ swim coach. “We think we can move up in the Northwest Conference standings a couple of notches, and we really want to qualify some swimmers for nationals this year.”

For the women, Nadia Markovchick was the team’s top swimmer last year, winning the NWC championship in the 1,650-yard freestyle last February. The junior is currently studying abroad and may not be back for this year’s season. But Stephenson is hoping she’ll be back to complement veteran swimmers Amy Hoang (third in the NWC 400 IM) and Sarah Morish (fourth in the NWC 100 butterfly).

The women will also benefit from the return of Rochelle Kibby, a senior freestyle and backstroker who took last year off to study abroad. Hoang and Kibby will be captains of the women’s team this season.

Stephenson is also looking for strong efforts from three incoming freshmen — Jessica Lee, a backstroker; Elise Tuttle, a middle distance freestyler; and Amanda Dickson, a versatile swimmer from Exeter, N.H.

On the men’s side, captain B.J. Wright is back after winning the NWC championship in the 50 freestyle last season. Wright, a senior from Keizer, also finished second in the 100 freestyle and fifth in the 100 butterfly at last year’s conference meet.

Other returning vets for the men include seniors Bryan Ruttkay, Greg Boggs and Alex Fiksdal, and sophomores Richard Walsh and Owen Williams. Ruttkay and Wright will captain this year’s team.

Of the newcomers to the men’s squad, Eric Swinn, a freshman from Roseburg, won the Oregon state 4A high school championship in the 100 backstroke last year.

“Last season, because we had so few kids, it was hard to really go after some teams. Now, we’ve got a lot more opportunities to use different swimmers in different events. That should help us move up in the conference standings,” said Stephenson.

Even if it means there’s a waiting line to get into the water at practice.