Saturday: 11:00 a.m. Lobos at Northern Arizona
By: Marcy A. Silva
Albuquerque, N.M. – To say that the Lobo swim and dive team has anxiously waited for the start of the 2013-2014 season would be an understatement for a few reasons. The first two reasons can be summarized easily: eagerness and fortification.
The last, however, is more on the unusual side, due to the government shutdown that occurred earlier this month from Oct. 1-16. The team’s home opener against Air Force was cancelled. That left the Lobos with no options but to keep the practice routine flowing, albeit a bit begrudgingly. After all, the excitement of a season opener can’t quite be duplicated.
“The team is definitely eager to get going and compete,” said second year head coach Kunio Kono. “We feel like we’ve been practicing for years now so it’ll be good for them to finally go through the routine that comes with meet day.”
The small setback of a cancelled home opener is nothing but a minuscule road bump for this team, which is extremely eager and hungry to prove it has what it takes to make a splash in the Mountain West.
Kono is also eager and he says that having a full year under his belt gives him confidence moving forward.
“We definitely have a clearer picture than we did last year,” he said. “I know that everyone trained hard over the summer and we were ready to go out of the gate. The team is hungry.”
Perhaps no group is hungrier than this year’s seniors, whom Kono calls “the core of the team”.
“The seniors run the show for sure this year,” said Kono. “Everyone wants to do well, but our seven seniors are definitely the hungriest. They want to finish their careers strong and they will be looking to compete at every level, from regular season meets to the conference championships.”
Of the seven seniors, Monica Dudley, Megan Harper and Jorgi Hobson are returning All-Mountain West performers with potential to accomplish the feat one last time.
Dudley was selected after her performance in the 500-yard freestyle where she placed seventh, while Hobson medaled in the 100-yard butterfly after placing third. Harper also took home a bronze for her performance in the 3-meter springboard. The diver from Phoenix also placed fifth off the platform and sixth off the 1-meter.
Ashley Blanchette, Julia Carroll, Heidi Zeiger and Jessica Montoya narrowly missed all-conference status last year, but it serves as more motivation to earn the distinction.
The motivation to earn such a distinction isn’t limited only to the seniors, however, as the juniors, sophomores, and a new freshman class that includes three domestic and three international athletes anxiously await their turn in the racing lanes.
Abigail Wheeler, Kaela McKee, Lindsey Englestead, Lucile Chevalier, Fanni Pataki and Anna Lengyel add even more depth to a team that has gotten stronger over the years, and Kono hopes that the international experience Chevalier, Pataki and Lengyel have will be to the team’s advantage come competition day.
“They’ve competed in meets like the European National Championshps and the World Cup, among some of the best athletes, so they know what it’s like to swim under intense pressure,” Kono said. “Those experiences will really help everyone on the team.”
Swimming in bigger meets against tougher competition is part of the process that will fortify the foundation that Kono began to lay down last season.
The team will face former MW foe BYU for the first time since 2011 as well as Denver University, and travel to Miami, Fla. the first week of January to compete in the Florida International University Invite.
“We need to race against teams like BYU and Denver and the participants what will be in Florida because I want them to see what Division I swimming from across the United States has to offer,” said Kono. “We want to keep growing and getting stronger, and this is just the beginning of the era.”
The new era has brought along with it coaching changes, but it was nothing stressful for Kono who added two experienced assistant coaches in Aimee Dunavant, who came by way of Northern Colorado, and Julie Weddle who was formerly Kono’s coworker at UNLV. Both coaches competed at the Division I level so they know what it takes to succeed.
Add to the equation Dunavant’s knowledge of the area and Weddle’s previous work experience with Kono and the head coach is extremely confident in his staff and what they can do not only for the program but the athletes as well.
“Both Julie and Aimee work extremely hard, it’s a tough process to build a program up, but I know that with them it will not be a problem.”
Kono finds himself in a good position to do just that with a hard working staff, motivated senior core and experienced returners and freshmen that are excited to continue rising up the ranks of the Mountain West.
“Last year was one of the better years we’ve had in a while,” Kono said. “But I think that this season will be better. We are very excited for what’s to come.”