Sometimes it's the events out of the pool that can make or break a team's season. Ninth year men's swimming coach Joel Shinofield is more than cognizant of that fact and is looking to rebound from a less than impressive finish to last year as the 2011 season gets underway.
A season ago, the Generals qualified three individual event swimmers and two additional relay members for the NCAA Championships in Knoxville, Tenn., but saw its expectations for the national meet fall short after the swimmers ended up with food poisoning.
"That was a bit of misfortune," said Shinofield. "We had high hopes going into the championships, and it was a disappointment to finish the way we did."
With spoils often comes triumphs, and Shinofield is quick to note that his team is using that disappointment as a platform to return to the national stage.
"The guys are coming back fired up, and are motivated to have an impressive season," remarked Shinofield.
Couple that emotion with a revamped off-season training regimen, and Shinofield has high expectations for his squad entering the 2011-12 campaign.
"Chris Schall has worked hard with the guys during the offseason to develop a great strength program," he said. "The team is more fit coming into this season, which is an exciting starting point."
Boasting 10 seniors on his roster, Shinofield notes that this class is "one of the most deep and balanced senior classes" he's had on a team.
Beyond the wealth of experience the group provides, Shinofield has something he has never encountered during his tenure at W&L, a squad featuring four captains. With a group that size, Shinofield says he has a balanced group, bringing a variety of backgrounds and experiences that help to bring the team together as one unit.
"This class of seniors provides competitive depth and leadership that will be evident not only at dual meets, but also at the [Bluegrass Mountain] conference championships and NCAAs," said Shinofield. "If they go where I think they will, they will carry the team this season."
Leading the way is three-time NCAA qualifier Chris Washnock. He has qualified for the national meet in addition to being named to the All-Bluegrass Mountain Conference team each of the three previous seasons. He was also named the W&L Outstanding Freshman Male Athlete in 2009, currently owns school records in the 200 back (1:49.25) and 400 IM (4:01.60).
"Chris leads the team competitively," said Shinofield. "He has come back this season with a much higher fitness level, stronger, and is more determined than ever to final at NCAAs."
Another strong competitor for the Generals is fellow captain Brian Stirling. A three-time All-Bluegrass Mountain Conference honoree, Stirling qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 100 butterfly as a first-year and junior, missing out on the trip by just 0.01 during his sophomore campaign. Stirling also owns the school record in the 100 fly (49.78), and was a member of two school record-setting relays a season ago, swimming the fly leg as a part of the 200 medley (1:32.83) and 400 medley (3:26.29) relay squads.
"Brian has really dedicated himself to training and success in the pool," said Shinofield. "He will be one of our go-to guys to help lead this team."
Also serving as team captains this season are Brad Harder and Ryan Hartman. Both have proven to be consistent performers during their time at W&L, and Shinofield reflects that, much like the previously mentioned captains, the duo has come back stronger and is ready to make significant contributions to the squad, both in and out of the pool. The team will rely on Brad's backstroke strength in the backstrokes, while Hartman has the versatility to compete in both butterfly events as well as the 100, 200 and 500 freestyles plus relays.
Among other returnees are seniors Frank Cullo and Ben Absher, who Shinofield expects big things out of in distance events. Cullo is the current school record holder in the 1650 free with a time of 16:07.31.
"This is the first season that Cullo has been fully healthy heading into the season," said Shinofield. "And Absher has been a consistent performer, so we are expecting a lot out of both."
Rounding out the senior class are Ian Dexter, Robert Grattan, Jeff Stirling and Cam Smith. Shinofield notes that both Dexter and Grattan saw big time drops in their breaststroke events a season ago and have set themselves up for great senior years.
Both Grattan and Dexter are critical to the team's relays. Grattan joined Brian Stirling a season ago on the 200 Medley Relay in setting the school record and achieving an NCAA "B" Qualifying Standard. In addition to his strength in the breaststroke, Ian is one of the teams top sprint freestylers and qualified for NCAAs as part of the 200 Freestyle Relay.
Shinofield also expects big things out of Jeff Stirling this season, after he capitalized on the new summer strength program to build himself up for a breakout year.
An exciting returnee for Shinofield is Smith, who missed the end of his sophomore and all of his junior seasons. A talented swimmer in all events, especially relays, Shinofield expects Smith to not only contribute in the pool, but also provide strong leadership out of the pool.
Small in numbers, but not in talent, the four members of the junior class serve as a great supplement to the deep senior class.
Furthermore, all three were members of at least one school record-setting relay last season. Marsh was a member of both the 200 medley and 400 medley relay teams which also achieved NCAA "B" Standards, while Sykes swam with the 200 medley relay and Gehrs swam with the 400 medley relay.
Add in Will Ericson, and Shinofield is quick to remark that this class has shown a lot of promise from a year ago.
"All four guys are stepping up and will score significant points for us," he said.
The team will turn to Gehrs to once again provide a solid option on relays and in the sprints, while Sykes and Marsh continue to develop into multi-event competitors. Ericson is also anticipated to step-up into a scoring role this season, competing in backstroke events.
One group Shinofield hopes grows into its potential during the 2011 campaign is the sophomore class. After a disappointing rookie campaign where he felt they left a lot on the table, Shinofield expects the class to step up and show their potential.
"David and Eric had strong showings at the conference meet to end last season," said Shinofield. "They should build on that finish for even greater success this season."
Shinofield also expects Robert Knuth to have a strong showing in sprint events, and Shuman to make the most of his training at the University of Virginia over the summer.
"David, Robert and Eric have the potential to take their events to a higher level, and compete for a spot at the NCAA Championships," said Shinofield.
Adding depth to breast events, Shinofield is relying on Philip Dishuck, Mark Faubion and Giovanni Marciano to rebound from less than ideal rookie seasons. All three missed part of the year with injuries or illness, but Shinofield fully expects the trio to rebound and contribute this season.
Finishing off the class of 2014 is Forrest Behne and Justin Myers. Shinofield will look to Myers to serve as a strong competitor on relays, while he is confident Behne will continue to develop into a scoring option for distance events.
Shinofield only has three first-year swimmers on the roster, but feels that the group will make an immediate impact on the team.
"The incoming first-year class is small, but much like the junior class, I feel they will add a great level of competitiveness to the team," said Shinofield.
Overall, Shinofield is excited about the team's depth, and its potential for the upcoming year.
"This is one of the best teams, top to bottom, that I've coached in a couple of years," he said. "This team has tremendous potential at both the Bluegrass Mountain Conference and NCAA Championships, and I can't wait for them to compete."
The Generals start their season on Saturday, hosting Centre College in a dual meet at Cy Twombly Pool starting at noon.