You've heard of safety in numbers, but the Westminster College men's and women's swimming and diving teams are hoping for success in numbers. The Titans have a combined 57 team members entering the 2011-12 season which are 20 more than what they finished with last year.
The Titan men's team starts the season with 24 swimmers and divers compared to the 17 it finished with last year, while the Titans women are 33 strong after ending last season with 20.
"A team is much stronger when you have more swimmers and divers to choose from to score points at the conference championship meet," said head coach Rob Klamut, who enters his 27th year at Westminster. "It's a very positive thing because of depth. We are also using more creative training methods to incorporate the entire team in the pool at one practice as well as splitting them in two practices."
Westminster will use depth this year as each team is vying for its first Presidents' Athletic Conference (PAC) Championship since 2007, but that certainly doesn't mean the teams are short on talent. The Titan men are returning all six first-team all-PAC swimmers from last year including three who posted a total of four PAC first-place finishes. The Titan women return three of four first-team all-PAC swimmers from last year including a six-time All-American, three-quarters of a champion relay team, and two swimmers with a combined four first-place individual finishes.
Overall, the Titan men return 15 of 17 letter winners and the women welcome back 17 of 19 letter winners from teams that posted 8-4 and 8-5 dual meet records, respectively, and teams that placed second and third at the PAC meet, respectively.
The Titan women sent swimmers to the NCAA Division III Championships for a fifth straight year last year where they placed 13th overall for their highest finish ever. Senior Caitlin Lehberger (New Wilmington, Pa./Wilmington) scored 42 points at the NCAA meet, the 10th-most at the meet, as she placed fourth in the 200 IM (2:04.10), sixth in the 100 breaststroke (1:03.65), and fifth in the 200 breaststroke (2:18.52). She eclipsed her own school record in the 200 IM.
Lehberger, a holder of nine school records including all five relay marks, is a three-time national qualifier and a 12-time PAC champion after winning the 200 IM for a third straight year in 2011.
"She's a tremendous success story for this program," Klamut said. "Her consistency is unprecedented at Westminster and very rare for someone at nationals year after year. She's determined to continue her success but it'll mean more to her and to the program if we can achieve our team goals. We want to win the conference championship and send more people to nationals."
Joining Lehberger as returning first-team all-PAC competitors are senior Sierra Beecher (Newville, Pa./Big Spring) and sophomore Erin Erdley (Meadville, Pa./Cochranton). Beecher is a three-time first-teamer who holds three school relay records while also winning three PAC relay titles. Erdley won three PAC titles as a rookie last year including the 200 backstroke (2:08.44) and the 1650 freestyle (18:01.07) which were held on the same night.
On the men's side, three of the returning swimmers who won PAC titles last year include sophomore Jake Scherer (Pittsburgh, Pa./North Allegheny), who won the 500 (4:40.96) and the 1650 (16:17.00) freestyles, the latter a school record. Seniors Mike Barringer (Boardman, Ohio/Boardman) and Mark Brooks (Youngstown, Ohio/Boardman) are also back after each successfully defended their titles in the 100 butterfly (50.74) and the 100 backstroke (52.76), respectively.
Junior Alan Nedley (White, Pa./Connellsville), a 2010 PAC champion on the 200 butterfly, returns after placing second in the 200 last year and third in the 100 butterfly.
Klamut acknowledges that the regular season will be important for both the men's and women's teams' success in 2011-12.
"Our goal is to beat the teams we know we can beat but also give more competition to the teams that beat us in recent years," Klamut said. "Once we cut the gap we will use that success and confidence to make headway at the conference meet and potentially qualify more people for nationals."
Among the teams that Westminster will be gunning for are last year's PAC champions, the Grove City men and the Washington & Jefferson women, and the second-place Grove City women.