After months of hard training and swimming endless laps, the 2001-2002 UCSB men’s and women’s swim teams begin their respective seasons looking forward to a bright season in hopes of repeating as Big West Champions.

The women’s swim team, the defending 2001 Big West Champion, will kick off its season against Pac-10 Champion UCLA and Oregon State at Campus Pool tomorrow at 1 p.m. in a three-way meet. The men’s team, which has won an unprecedented 23 consecutive Big West Championships, will open its season Oct. 28 against California.

The Women

After a hard month of preparation culminating with an impressive intra-squad practice last weekend in which several single-season records were challenged, the Gauchos look well prepared to hold their own against the tough Bruins and Beavers.

“We have been working very hard in preparation for the season,” said UCSB Head Coach Gregg Wilson, who was the Big West Swimming Coach of the Year for both men and women. “Our intra-squad meet was one of the best I have seen from our women since I began coaching them in 1984. Our freshman had some eye-opening swims.”

After losing a considerable slew of talent to graduation and early retirement, the Gauchos would usually be faced with a rebuilding year. The emergence of a strong freshman class propelled by Olympic trails qualifier Lindsay Dalonzo has averted a season of struggling. Dalonzo broke the school record in the 200 back and just missed breaking the 100 back record by two hundredths of a second.

Santa Barbara has retooled the sprint swimmers after losing its top three athletes from last year’s squad with junior Julia King leading the way. Wilson feels his distance swimmers are, “extremely competitive,” led by junior Romina Mosquera and sophomore Colleen Barnett. Mosquera was the Big West Champion in the 1650 free and Barnett was the champion in the 1000 free.

Pacific will be the main roadblock in Santa Barbara’s path toward the Big West title, but the Gauchos are up to the task.

“Pacific is our main rival, but we have been working very hard and are very exited about this season,” senior co-captain Karin Finger said. “We just want to get out there and swim.”

“They always have good athletes at Pacific, but I feel our athletes are just as good if not better,” Wilson said.

With a good blend of returnees and a strong freshman class, the Gauchos appear poised to make another run at the Big West title.

“We looked good last week, but the proof on how good we really are will be seen on Friday. I hope we can carry the intensity of last week over to tomorrow.” Wilson said.

The Men

The UCSB men’s swim team has won 23 consecutive Big West titles making them one of the most storied programs on campus. This year the Gauchos want 24 and more.

“Our goal is to win the Big West title and qualify for the NCAA’s,” senior co-captain David “Pooh” Maddan said. “It has been three years since we had someone qualify so that it a big goal for us.”

The 2001-2002 squad is again loaded with talent but Wilson still feels his team needs to improve after a sub-par intra-squad meet.

We had a very lackluster performance by our men,” he said. “Some of our swims were very weak. We need to step up our attitude and performance if we are to compete with teams like California.”

Despite some early season growing pains, the Gauchos are loaded from top to bottom.

“Our depth is our team strength,” Wilson said. “In addition to our returners, we have another very strong freshman class and they should step in and contribute immediately.”

The Gauchos will be led by junior Matt Wheeler, a two-time Big West Swimmer of the Year who was the Big West Champion in the 200 and 400 individual medley. Last season, Wheeler broke his own Big West record in the 400 IM (3:49.88) by two seconds. In addition, senior Ethan Hall, and sophomore Eric Koch will be top swimmers for Santa Barbara. Hall was the Big West Champion in the 200 breast while Koch was the champion in the 1000 and 1650 free.

“Eric [Koch] has swam very well in practice,” Wilson said. “He is very determined.”

Junior Seth Derrick will be looked on to lead the sprint freestyle group[[,]] and he will be followed closely by High School All-American and freshman Eric Lee Jr., who has looked impressive in practice. Another bright spot for the men will be Shaun Crossman, a sophomore transfer from Virginia. Crossman will see time in the distance and medley events.

“As with the women’s team, I am very exited about the men’s team,” said Wilson. “Our goal is to win the Big West and qualify for the NCAA’s.”