Dec 10, 2012
By John Lock
CARBONDALE, Ill. - The Southern Illinois swimming and diving teams wrapped up a successful fall campaign with an appearance at the USA National Championships earlier this month and are now training for MVC and MAC championship meets in February and March.
SIU hosts the conference championships for both the men and women this year. The men compete in the Mid-American Conference because the Valley doesn't sponsor men's swimming and diving. The men are in their fourth year in the conference, and they have improved every year. The team finished third last year, as head coach Rick Walker earned MAC Coach of the Year honors.
Both teams hope to compete for conference titles this year. The men's team has added an impressive list of newcomers, led by Till Pallmann. Pallmann was one of of eight Salukis to compete at the USA Swimming Nationals, where he posted the 12th-fastest time in the 500-yard freestyle. SIU will also be boosted by the return of Justin Wolfe, who sat out the fall season with a shoulder injury. Calvin Kolar, Oleg Rabota and a slew of other Salukis will look to move the men up in the MAC standings this year.
The women's team returns most of its top contributors from a season ago, when SIU narrowly missed a second-place finish at the MVC Championships. Hannah Pinion returns after a freshman season in which she won the conference in both the 200- and 400-yard individual medley. Pinion set a MVC Championships record in the 200-yard individual medley, and she's already earned MVC Swimmer of the Week honors once this season after sweeping both individual medleys at the Phoenix Fall Classic.
Isabela Castro also returns after setting a Championships record in the 200-yard butterfly. Castro, a junior, has won the event in each of her two seasons at SIU. The Dawgs also return distance swimmers Kirsten Groome and Pamela Benitez. Groome is an eight-time MVC Swimmer of the Week honoree and finished second in the mile at the conference championships last year. Benitez, who is coming off an appearance at the 2012 London Olympics, finished among the top three in three events at last year's conference championships.
A great addition for the women's team has been freshman diver Sherry Zhang. In the preliminaries at the Purdue Invitational earlier this fall, Zhang shattered a 17-year old school diving record for the three-meter dive. Earlier in the fall, Zhang broke the Dr. Edward J. Shea pool record for the three-meter dive in a meet against Missouri State. Her degree of difficulty on most of her dives are the highest in the conference.
Walker is in his 26th season with SIU and has coached both the men's and women's programs since 2004. Last year, he guided the women's team to an upset over Illinois; this year, he guided the men's team to an upset-win over Air Force. He's produced eight Olympians in his career, including three last year.
A national figure for open-water swimming, Walker had two SIU swimmers qualify for the Olympics in the 10K open-water swim, and he was selected to coach one of them-Mazen Aziz-as the Egyptian Olympic swim coach. Another Saluki swimmer, Justin Wolfe, qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials, which, due to the depth of the field, is the fastest swimming race in the world.
The coaches may add a meet or two to the spring schedule, but for now, the only meet before SIU hosts both the MVC and MAC Championships is a dual meet with Evansville on Feb. 2. The MVC Championships are Feb. 14-16 and the MAC Championships are March 7-9.