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UMass gears up for season in the pool

The coaches’ voices were barely audible, as practice continued to go on in Boyden Gym. The sounds that filled the air as both the men’s and women’s swimming teams prepared for their first race of the season were that of hard work. The Massachusetts’ swimming and diving teams were preparing for homecoming weekend as they embark on the 2009-2010.

 As the men’s team knifed through their last lap of the day, men’s head coach Russ Yarwoth enthusiastically went to high five his swimmers and give words of encouragement as they reached the end of the pool to conclude their day. The energy and intensity transmitted from coach to players seemed spirited and genuine, especially for someone embarking on his 31st season as head coach. The length is the second longest in all of UMass athletics.

“I love coaching,” Yarworth said. “I’d rather be on deck than be anywhere else.”

Hard work is supposed to pay off and frequently has for the Minutemen, winner of three straight Atlantic 10 swimming and diving championships. In Yarworth’s tenure as head coach, the program won 11th A-10 championships, including last year, which marks the team’s eighth victory in nine years. The teams have been training since school reopened in September, and have already made strides.

“The month we’ve been at it I’ve been very pleased with the progress. The kids are stronger, they’re more fit, and they’re starting to be faster and ultimately that’s what we’re trying to do,” Yarworth said.

The Minutemen are led by a strong returning class, including the trio of senior captains: Andrew Wilbrant, Justin Brooks and Tim Smith. Yarworth couldn’t say enough about how much the three have embraced their role as the leaders of this team, and believes that their winning attitude permeates through the team.

“They’ve developed with the program, and have improved every year as individuals and also as swimmers,” Yarworth said.

Brooks hopes to build off the momentum he had last season as he was able to finish first in the 1650M freestyle for the third year in a row. However, he didn’t seem too interested in talking about individual accolades, more so, he wanted to talk about the team’s goals and potential.

“I think the team is really excited. We’ve been working out hard in the offseason so hopefully it shows,” said Brooks.

Immediately following the men’s practice, the Minutewomen took the pool. Minutewomen head coach Bob Newcomb is excited about the potential of his team this season as well. The team had several key contributors graduate last semester.

“We have a whole new dynamic and a whole new group and it’s exciting,” Newcomb said.. “They have come together very well they are training very hard and had a great attitude when they showed up. I can’t ask for anything more right now.”

Nevertheless with senior co-captains Joan Baltazar and Elizabeth Walsh as well as fellow senior Eryn Brewer, Liz Wester, and Ashley Dress hope to help lead by example and nurture a young group with lots of potential. The women have been very successful in recent years and hope to finish in the top three of the Atlantic 10 Conference this season. Captain Elizabeth Walsh is very encouraged by what she has seen from the freshman class.

“The team looks very good. The freshman class gives us a lot of depth. I just think that it’s going to be a really good season,” Walsh said.

Another group of athletes looking to have a great season are the divers on both the men’s and women’s side. Nine-year head coach Mandy Dixon believes that both her men’s and women’s teams can be successful this season. The women’s side will be led by sophomore Hannah Swift who had a very strong freshman season, and looks to receive significant contributions from Molly Elkins. Dixon believes that her male divers are as strong as any in the northeast, as they are a very experienced group with much potential.

Both teams have four home meets on the schedule, as they have some of the strongest teams in the nation will visit Joseph Rogers Pool this swimming season. The teams will take part in the Terrier Invitational, which starts Nov. 20. The A-10 Championships will take place in New York from Feb. 17-20.

Nevertheless, this weekend race will be significant for many reasons.  All the coaches seemed too eager to see how their team looks and what their team has to offer. They are very aware of Boston University’s speed and potential, and are looking forward to compete in front of their home crowd. Although they would like to start the season off with a victory, they know that their main obstacles lie further ahead in some of the bigger races of the season.

“The biggest thing is it as an opportunity to see how the freshmen do it,” Newcomb said. “I’ve watched them train for five weeks and I want to see them on the blocks in competition. BU is an incredible team so it’s a good way to open up against some stiff competition.”

The season officially kicks off at 11 a.m.

Jeffrey Engmann can be reached at jengmann@student.umass.edu.

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