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UMass teams set for A-10 Championships

Just two days after an emotional victory over Fordham on Senior Day, the Massachusetts men’s swimming team’s coach Russ Yarworth had the 2010 Atlantic 10 Championships in mind.

Yarworth has won several awards over the years, and the program has won a total of 11 A-10 Titles since they have joined the league. Nevertheless, he still had in mind how special it would be for seniors Michael Berthaume, Justin Brooks, Juan Moliere, Tim Smith and Andrew Willbrant to bring another title back to UMass.

“Their going to be a class that has a chance to go 4-for-4 in Atlantic 10 Championships and there’s not a lot of classes that can do that,” Yarworth said.

This weekend, the Minutemen and Minutewomen will head to Buffallo, N.Y. to compete in the 2010 A-10 Swimming and Diving Conference Championships.

The championships will take place in the Flicklinger Aquatic Center, and will be held from Feb. 17-20. In 2009, the Minutemen were able to capture their eighth conference title in nine years, while the Minutewomen also had a very strong showing as they finished in fourth place.

Several Minutemen will look to replicate their dominant performances of the past couple seasons, including Brooks, who will be going after his fourth-straight gold medal in the 1,650-yard freestyle event. Willbrant has won three years in a row in the 100-meter backstroke, and this weekend he will try to make it 4-for-4.

Moliere hopes to win his third straight in the 50-yard freestyle. Last season, he was able to capture first place with an impressive time of 45.33 seconds.  Sophomore Jason Cook will look to capture his second-straight gold in the one- and three-meter diving events.

The Minutemen have been strong all season, as they hold a record of 6-2 in dual meets. The Minutewomen have also improved throughout the course of the season and hold a record of 4-4 in dual meets.

All year, however, Yarworth and Minutewomen coach Bob Newcomb have stressed that the meets are not to be judged by wins and losses, but instead are to help their teams prepare for the A-10 Championships.

Several teams will be looking to knock off the Minutemen. In last years meet, Mariusz Michalik of St. Bonaventure won his third-consecutive gold in the 200-yard breaststroke. Now, as a senior, he will look to win his forth-straight and help defeat the Minutemen.

Duquesne was picked to finish third in the conference earlier this season and will look to remain competitive this week. The Dukes are led by inspirational senior swimmer Chris Kobela, who will be competing in his first A-10 Championship since 2007, after he was diagnosed with Leukemia.

The Minutewomen are led by senior Elizabeth Walsh, who captured her first UMass Athlete of the Week award earlier this season. Walsh was a big part of the team’s success in the championships last season and will have a prominent role in this year’s meet.

This weekend, the Minutewomen will also rely on several underclassmen as they have done all season. Freshman Amina Meho will look to make her mark in several events, including the 50-yard freestyle in which she already holds the UMass school record.

The Richmond women’s swimming and diving teams will be looking to capture an unprecedented ninth consecutive A-10 title in Buffalo. The team is led by senior Katie Sieben, who in last year’s championship won a total of five events, including capturing first place in the 100-yard butterfly. In 2008, Sieben earned a spot in the Olympic trials in the event.

This season, Richmond has not been as dominant as it has been in years past, holding a 5-3 record overall in dual meets. The team picked to win the A-10 by the coaches prior to the season was Fordham, which was the runner up in last year’s race.

Led by 2008-2009 A-10 coach of the year, Steve Potsklan, the Rams have gone 12-0 in dual meets and have done so by receiving significant contributions from a number of underclassmen. Freshman Brienne Ryan was awarded her sixth A-10 Rookie of the Week award just two Saturday’s ago. Coincidentally, the unprecedented sixth award is the most ever by an A-10 swimmer. The previous mark was five and was set by UMass’ Cristen Dexter in 2001.

Ryan has been consistent all season and excels in several events, especially the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard backstroke. As a freshman, Courtney Collyer was named a First Team All-Atlantic 10 swimmer, and has continued her strong swimming this season.

The championships begin Feb. 17 at 4:30 p.m.

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

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