Oct. 23, 2003
BERKELEY, Calif. - Last season, the fourth-place finish at the 2003 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships by the California men's swimming team was its highest since 1999. As Cal's head coach Nort Thornton heads into his 30th season at the helm of the Golden Bears' men's swimming program, he believes that the 2003-04 team is a balanced and talented squad that should again vie to be one of the Top 5 teams in the nation.
During those 30 years, Thornton has compiled an impressive career dual meet record of 206-80 (.720) and led his 1979 and 1980 teams to back-to-back NCAA Championships. His teams have finished in the Top 10 nationally in 24 of the 29 years he has directed the Bears. This past August, Thornton was inducted into the ASCA (American Swimming Coaches Association) Hall of Fame, marking the second Hall of Fame that bears his name. He is also a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
This season, Thornton, along with co-head coach Mike Bottom and volunteer assistant coach Ben Sheppard, believe that this year's squad will make Thornton's 30th year memorable.
"This year's group is great in terms of being eager and willing to work hard," said Thornton. "However, it's hard to predict the type of team we'll be this early. I think we'll be a good team, with a chance to be great."
Despite the loss of graduated seniors Anthony Ervin, Joe Bruckart and Quentin Byma, the Golden Bears do return seven All-Americans from last season. Those returning All-Americans include seniors Alex Lim and Jeff Natalizio, junior Duje Draganja and John Dorr and sophomores Milorad Cavic, Matt Lyon and Miguel Molina.
Filling the holes left by Olympic gold medalist sprinter Ervin won't be easy, but All-Americans junior Duje Draganja and sophomore Milorad Cavic should continue Cal's dominance in the sprint freestyle and butterfly events. Draganja won the 100 free title (42.02) at the 2003 NCAA Championships, edging out runner-up Ervin-a three-time winner in that event. Draganja placed second to Ervin in both the 50 and 100 free at the Pac-10 Championships. Cavic, who last season set a new Cal school record in the 100 fly (46.10), finished fourth in that event at the NCAA Championships. From his debut, Cavic proved to be one of the finest sprinters in the country, as he turned in a runner-up finish in the 50 free (19.37) at the NCAA meet. Both Draganja (lead-off leg) and Cavic (second leg) were part of Cal's 400 free relay (2:48.99) team that set the new NCAA, U.S. Open and Cal school record in that event. They also helped Cal's 200 free relay team to a third-place national finish (1:17.39).
Lim, a co-captain this season, earned All-America honors by virtue of his third-and sixth-place finishes in the 100 (46.59) and 200 backstroke (1:42.70), respectively. His time in the 200 back set a new Cal school record. Lim also scored points for the Bears with a sixth-place showing in the 100 fly (47.45). Natalizio earned All-America accolades after finishing 14th in the 200 IM (1:47.26) and 16th in the 200 back (1:46.66) at NCAAs. He also competed in the 100 back at the meet.
Dorr, Lyon and Molina round out the NCAA qualifiers from last season. Dorr anchored the Bears' sixth-place 800 free relay (6:26.30), while Lyon was part of Cal's 200 free relay that placed third (1:17.39). Molina qualified for the NCAAs in the 500 free and 400 IM and was also part of Cal's 800 free relay at the national championships.
A total of 10 newcomers dot this season's roster, including nine freshmen and one senior transfer. Despite its seemingly youthful look, Cal's squad is also comprised of a strong upper class, with a total of nine juniors and seniors. The Bears are sure to miss the leadership and experience of graduated seniors Ervin and Bruckart. However, Thornton strongly believes that the balance of this year's team will help fill the holes in events that those swimmers left.
"I think we'll be a more balanced team this year," said Thornton. "However, it will still be hard to replace lost points from our seniors who are gone."
With four of the 10 newcomers hailing from a different country, this year's Cal team has an international flair. There are a total of nine Golden Bears with ties to countries outside of the United States. Draganja is from Croatia, while Cavic has Yugoslavian heritage. Freshmen Rolandas Gimbutis (Lithuania) and Jonas Tilly (Sweden) round out Cal's European contingent. Sophomore Ricky Barbosa and senior transfer Renato Gueraldi are from Brazil, while senior Alex Lim and sophomore Miguel Molina represent Malaysia and the Philippines, respectively. Freshman Daniel Lysaught is from Australia.
Head diving coach Phil Tonne has added one newcomer to his squad in Louis Gagnet. Gagnet, a junior transfer from Florida State, won four ACC titles in the one-and three-meter boards. He qualified for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships the past two seasons and earned All-America recognition after finishing ninth in the three-meter (531.8) at last season's NCAA meet. Senior Robbie Quinn and junior Nathaniel Dean return for the Bears to complete this season's diving squad.
The following is an event-by-event breakdown of the 2003-04 Cal men's swimming and diving team.
Losing an Olympic gold medalist in the 50-meter free (Anthony Ervin) would be a huge blow to most teams, but Cal still boasts three of the nation's top four sprinters from last year. Winning his first NCAA title in the 100 free (42.02) last season, junior Duje Draganja is capable of defending that title this year. Sophomore Milorad Cavic is the perfect person to complete Cal's 1-2 punch in the sprint freestyle. Last season, Cavic held Cal's second-fastest time in the 50 free (19.37) behind Ervin, good for third-fastest in the country. He also ranked 13th overall nationally in the 100 free (43.28). Sophomore returnees Matt Lyon and Evan Lane round out Cal's strong returning sprint freestyle group. Lane underwent surgery during the summer, but is expected to return before the end of the season.
Three key newcomers will also add to the Bears' sprint corps. Senior transfer Renato Gueraldi from the University of Tennessee, was one of the nation's top 50 freestylers last year. His fastest time of 19.41, was fourth best in the country, after Ervin (19.25, 2nd) and Cavic (19.3, 3rd). As a Volunteer, he won two NCAA relay titles and was a finalist in the 50 free as both a sophomore and junior. Incoming freshman Rolandas Gimbutis, from Lithuania, brings much international experience to Cal. A member of the Lithuanian national team, Gimbutis recently competed at the 2003 FINA World Championships and also competed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Freshman Jonas Tilly, from Sweden, will also add depth to an already strong sprint group. Tilly competed for Sweden's national team at both the 2001 and 2003 world championships.
While the Bears might be known for their solid sprinters, this year's group of middle and long distance freestylers is talented. Junior returnees John Dorr, Steve Rehrmann and Matt Schmelzer and sophomores Ryan Lean and Miguel Molina, along with newcomers Gimbutis, Blake Dickson, Eric Dunipace, Alexander Holdridge and Daniel Lysaught make up the middle and long distance group. Last season, Dorr swam Cal's fastest time of the season in the 500 free (4:22.89) and second-fastest time in the 1650 free (15:37.85). He, along with Molina, qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 500 free. Molina posted Cal's second-fastest times in the 200 (1:37.20), 500 (4:25.14) and 1000 free (9:27.31). Lean was Cal's top 1650 freestyler, posting the Bears' fastest time of the season at 15:24.15. Dickson comes to Cal via The Bolles School in Florida, where he recorded runner-up finishes in the 200 and 500 free events at the Florida state finals as a senior, and was a finalist at the state meet each of his four years. Dunipace, who can also contribute in the backstroke, earned All-America honors as a member of his club team's 200 and 400 free relays. Holdridge will add depth to the middle distance group, while Lysaught-one of Austrailia's top young distance swimmers-will help handle the long distance duties.
Cal's top breaststrokers from last year return in junior Caleb Rowe and sophomore Ricky Barbosa. Both were NCAA qualifiers in the 100 and 200 breast. Last season, Rowe posted the Bears' fastest time in the 200 breast (1:58.06), while Barbosa owned Cal's best time in the 100 breast (54.50). Junior Brooks Jenkins is another returnee for Cal in the breaststroke. Last year, he scored points for the Bears after placing eighth in the 200 breast (2:02.65). Senior Jeff Natalizio, junior John Dorr and sophomore Miguel Molina are also capable of swimming the breaststroke. Newcomers to this event include freshmen Paul Hernandez and Graham Lentz. During their high school years, Lentz earned All-America honors four times in the breaststroke events, while Hernandez set his high school's record in the 100 breast.
Senior Alex Lim will anchor a talented backstroke group. During his three years as a Golden Bear, Lim has garnered 10 All-America honors. Last season, he set Cal's 200 back (1:42.70) record. He also owns Cal's fastest-ever time in the 100 back (46.05). In 2003, Lim turned in a third-place finish in the 100 back and a sixth-place finish in the 200 back at the NCAAs. Fellow senior Jeff Natalizio also performed well in the backstroke last season. Natalizio finished 16th in the 200 back (1:46.66) at NCAAs to earn All-America accolades. He also competed in the 100 back at the championship meet. Sophomores Milorad Cavic and Chris Gibson will also contribute in the backstroke events. Cavic is primarily a sprint backstroker and posted Cal's third-fastest time in the 100 back (48.05) last season, while Gibson swam the Bears' third-fastest time in the 200 back (1:47.72). Senior Keith Vogelgesang and junior Steve Rehrmann will also add depth to the Bears' backstroke unit.
As strong as Cal is in the freestyle, the Bears might be equally as solid in the butterfly stroke. Senior Alex Lim, junior Duje Draganja and sophomore Milorad Cavic are Cal's top returning butterfliers. In his debut season, Cavic etched his name into the school record book, setting the Bears' best mark in the 100 fly (46.10). That time was good for third fastest in the nation. At the Pac-10 Championships, he won the 100 fly in 46.32, setting a new conference championship record. At the NCAA Championships, he finished fourth in the 100 fly (46.41) and swam the fly legs on Cal's 200 (1:26.10) and 400 medley relays (3:08.68) that finished in fifth and fourth places, respectively. Draganja is also a prolific butterflier. At the NCAAs, he took third place with a time of 46.40. That time was good for the fourth fastest in the nation. At the Pac-10 Championships, he was runner-up (46.44) to Cavic's victory in the 100 fly. Lim swam the Bears' fastest time of the season in the 200 fly (1:45.96). He held the third-fastest time on the team in the 100 fly (46.76). A qualifier in the 100 fly at the NCAA meet, Lim turned in a sixth-place finish (47.45) in the consolation final. Senior Keith Vogelgesang, junior Steve Rehrmann and freshman Pat O'Neil should also make an impact in the butterfly events. O'Neil set the Oregon state high school 100 fly record (49.41) and won that event at the state meet in both 2002 and 2003.
Due to Cal's individual medley-based training, there is a rather large contingent of Bears that can swim the IM. Seniors Alex Lim, Jeff Natalizio and Keith Vogelgesang, juniors John Dorr, Brooks Jenkins, Steve Rehrmann and Caleb Rowe, sophomores Ricky Barbosa and Miguel Molina and freshmen Alexander Holdridge, Graham Lentz and Patrick O'Neil make up Cal's IM group.
"We have a large group of IMers, but that is not unusual as our training is IM based," said Thornton. "This helps with cross-training for their best strokes and it helps them improve on their weaker strokes."
Natalizio and Molina are Cal's returning 200 (1:47.18) and 400 IM (3:49.77) leaders, respectively. At the NCAA Championships, Natalizio finished 14th in the 200 IM, while Molina competed in the 400 IM. At the Pac-10 Championships, Natalizio finished fourth in the 200 IM (1:47.18) and Molina touched the wall in second place of the 400 IM (3:49.77) consolation finals. Dorr posted Cal's third-fastest time of the season last year in the 400 IM (3:49.78), placing 15th in that event at NCAAs. Lim swam the third-fastest time of last year in the 200 IM (1:48.89), and Rowe was a 200 IM NCAA qualifier.
Last season, Cal's relays were among the strongest in the country. For the second consecutive season, the Bears' 400 free relay won the NCAA title in that event, breaking the NCAA, U.S. Open and the Cal school record (2:48.99). Cal loses two of the swimmers from that relay in Joe Bruckart and Anthony Ervin, but they return junior Duje Draganja and sophomore Milorad Cavic. The Bears return three of the four swimmers from their 200 free relay (Cavic, Draganja and sophomore Matt Lyon) that placed third at the NCAA Championships. Despite the loss of Bruckart and Ervin, Thornton believes that the sprint free relays should still contend for national titles this season.
"Our free relays will be pretty good again," said Thornton. "They are well covered and we have a number of swimmers that we can plug into the other two spots on the 200 and 400 relays. We have the bodies, we just need two to swim fast enough."
Sophomore returnees Matt Lyon and Evan Lane, along with several of the newcomers including senior transfer Renato Gueraldi and freshmen Rolandas Gimbutis and Jonas Tilly, might serve as those swimmers.
Junior John Dorr and sophomore Miguel Molina are the returnees from last season's 800 free relay team that finished sixth (6:26.30) at the NCAA meet. Senior Keith Vogelgesang and junior Steve Rehrmann are two current swimmers that could fill the holes left by former Bears Bruckart and Jens Thiele. There are also several newcomers in freshmen Blake Dickson, Alexander Holdridge, Daniel Lysaught and even sprinter Gimbutis that can be considered for spots in the 800 free relay.
Senior Alex Lim (backstroke) and Cavic (butterfly) are the top returnees from Cal's medley relay teams that placed in fourth (400 medley relay) and fifth places (200 medley relay) at the '03 NCAA Championships. At the championships, the 200 medley relay of Lim, former Bear Quentin Byma, Cavic and Ervin set a new Cal record mark (3:08.68). Lim will once again handle the backstroke duties, while Cavic continues as the butterflier for the medley relays. Several other swimmers will provide flexibility in determining who can fill the breaststroke and freestyle roles. Both junior Caleb Rowe and sophomore Ricky Barbosa are the top candidates for the breaststroke duties, while Draganja will likely fit in to the relay as the freestyler. However, the butterfly and freestyle spots might be interchangeable as Cavic and Draganja are capable of handling both.
Head diving coach Phil Tonne's 2003-04 squad is small but strong. This season, Cal's diving corps is poised to have its first NCAA qualifier since 1987, in junior transfer Louie Gagnet. Gagnet, who spent his first two seasons competing for Florida State, is a two-time NCAA qualifier and was named the ACC's Most Valuable Diver two seasons in a row after winning four ACC titles in the one-and three-meter springboards. With a ninth-place finish in the three-meter board (531.8) at last year's NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, he became the first Seminole diver to earn All-America recognition since 1992. Returning for the Bears from last season's diving team is senior Robbie Quinn and junior Nathaniel Dean. Quinn has continued to improve each year at Cal. Last year, he did especially well on the one-meter boards, placing seventh (573.35) at the NCAA Zone E Championships and fifth (280.25) at the Pac-10 Championships. Dean was Cal's star on the platform last year, placing eighth (373.90) at the NCAA Zone E meet and seventh (402.80) at the Pac-10 Championships.