A multitude of record holders return to the respective Middlebury swimming & diving lineups, giving the programs optimistic goals at the national level, while looking to continue to ascend up the standings at the NESCAC Championship meet.
Under the tutelage of seventh-year head coach Bob Rueppel, the Panthers broke a combined six school records last season. The women posted a fourth-place effort at the NESCAC Championship, while the men finished eighth. Both teams participated at the NCAA Championships in Shenandoah, Texas a few weeks later, highlighted by an 18th-place team finish for the women.
Lost to graduation were deep senior classes for both the men and women, with seven from each team walking across the stage. Despite the loss of those respective athletes, Rueppel is excited about his returners.
On the women's side, leading the group of contributors will be senior Stephanie Andrews along with junior Kristin Karpowicz. A freestyle specialist, Andrews is a member of the school-record 400 freestyle relay, established during last year's NCAA Championship, while also swimming in the 800 free relay at the same meet.
Karpowicz also swam a leg on the 800 freestyle relay at the national meet, looking to be a key point scorer for the Panthers in the middle-distance freestyle events.
Sophomores Maya Gomez and Frances VanderMeer had solid first seasons for the Panthers. Gomez was a point scorer in the free, breaststroke and butterfly events a season ago. She competed at the NCAA meet as an individual finishing 12th in the 100 breaststroke as well as swimming in the 50 free (34th). Gomez also swam as a member of the school-record 400 medley relay.
VanderMeer, a free and backstroke specialist, swam a part in the record-setting 400 medley, 200 free and 400 free relays in her initial season and looks to be a contributor this season.
Seniors Kathryn Bullen, Kelly Delane, Sarah Bartholomae and Elissa DeNunzio will serve as the team's captains this winter. Bullen will swim in the backstroke and individual medley events, while Delane is a freestyle specialist. Bartholomae is a backstroke specialist and was a 2015 All-American as a part of the 200 and 400 medley relays.
On the diving boards, DeNunzio returns after finishing in sixth place during the 3-meter event (392.25) and eighth (380.15) in the 1-meter competition at the league championship. She also represented the Panthers in the NCAA Regional Diving Qualifier.
On the men's side, Rueppel turns to senior captains Stefan Pla, Andrew Buchser and Alex Smith to lead the way in 2017-18.
Pla has competed in both the breaststroke and butterfly events over the last three years for the Panthers. Last winter, he finished in the top-12 spots during the NESCAC Championships in the 50 breaststroke (eighth), 100 breaststroke (11th) and 200 breaststroke (12th) events, respectively.
Buchser will look to score points in the butterfly and IM events for Middlebury, while Smith is a backstroke and butterfly specialist that will add depth.
Other top swimmers back from last year's squad include juniors Jack Dowling and Brendan Leech along with senior Connor McCormick and sophomore Will Pannos. Dowling is a butterfly specialist who was a member of numerous relay teams during last winter's NESCAC Championship, earning an NCAA 'B' cut time in the 200 butterfly. Leech also swam a leg on relays and concentrates on the backstroke and freestyle events. McCormick took part in last year's meet in the individual medley events and swam a leg on the relay teams, while Pannos tallied markers in the butterfly, breaststroke and freestyle events as an individual as well as the relays.
On the diving boards, sophomore Mike Chirico returns earning All-NESCAC honors during his first season. He dove to a third-place finish with an NCAA 'B' point total of 437.00 points during 1-meter event, while he was fourth in the 3-meter event with 420.05 points. He also qualified for the NCAA Diving Regionals.
Junior Will Greene is also a consistent scorer on both boards for the Panthers over the last two years.
In addition, Rueppel welcomes a total of 10 newcomers to the men's roster as well as six women's first-year swimmers and divers.
The Panthers will open their season on Saturday, November 18 when they host a home meet with Connecticut College at 1:00 p.m. Other notable events for the Panthers include the Middlebury Invitational on February 2-3 and the NESCAC Championships on February 16-18 (women at Williams) and February 23-25 (men at Bowdoin). Middlebury will also play host to the NCAA Diving Regionals on March 2-3.