Although the Boise State swimming & diving program is just in its third year, the Broncos will field a team that has both experience and talent - a combination that should make them a contender in the Western Athletic Conference this season. With 19 returning athletes, comprised primarily of talented sophomores, and 11 newcomers on its 2008-09 roster, Boise State should continue to establish itself as an up-and-coming swimming & diving program in the West. With a trio of seniors and a junior also returning, the Broncos have the experience and leadership that is key to the growth of a fledgling program. When breaking down the roster, it is quite apparent that the Broncos’ depth and talent continues to improve. Here’s a closer look at the various events.
Top returning backstroker Denise Green spent the off-season improving her times and trained intensely to enter the season in mid-season shape. The Broncos will not only look to the sophomore standout to dominate in the backstroke events, but will utilize her skill and speed in relay lead-offs. With the fastest times this fall, newcomer Chelsea Lopus will be a great asset while the coaches will look to freshman Kirdy Franco’s natural speed and strong underwater kick to help the team in both the 50 and 100 back. Also looking to make an impact in the backstroke are sophomores Morgan Denny, Samantha Eichner, Tisha Taylor, Andrea Thiltgen and Johanna Wubbena.
Sophomore Tara Hahto returns to Boise State after competing in the Canadian Olympic trials and completing an intense training schedule during the summer months. During her freshman campaign, Hahto rewrote the Boise State record books and owns the school record in each breaststroke event. With the addition of freshman Emily Irvin, who owns the top time in the 100 breast, Hahto may be pushed to a new level of competition. Senior Lauren Keele and sophomore Erin Stotts have also made great strides in improving their times during the off-season. A few others to watch for include freshman Morgan McLain and sophomores Danielle Blow, Rachael Meisner and Kim Nelson.
With a handful of newcomers with impressive times in the butterfly, none stand out like three-time Nevada state champion Kirdy Franco, who enters the season as the Broncos top swimmer in the 100. While the coaches feel Franco’s potential is endless, she will be challenged by teammates Amber Boucher, Chelsea Lopus and Paige LaPorte throughout the season. Adding a bit of experience to this young group of swimmers is returner Sammy Sanchez-O'Dell. The sophomore worked hard during the spring and summer months to improve her times. The competition will be tough as this talented group fights for a spot in the medley relay.
FREESTYLE - SPRINTS
The sprinting core has improved for the Broncos since last season with the return of several key athletes and the addition of some talented freshmen. Look for freshman Amber Boucher to make an immediate impact with impressive times in the 50, 100 and 200 free. In addition, freshman Stephanie North has the potential to be one of the best sprinters in the WAC. Another freshman expected to be a great addition to the Bronco family is Morgan McLain.
While the Broncos welcomed an influx of newcomers in the off-season, they return a talented group of returning sprinters, including sophomore Johanna Wubbena. According to head coach Kristin Hill, “She had some great improvement from last season and she returns even stronger this fall.” As for other returners, look for sophomores Jenny Nowatzke, Kim Nelson and Nathalie Rohling to be vying for relay positions and top spots. Expect senior Kelsey Woodfield and sophomores Morgan Denny and Sammy Sanchez-O'Dell to make an impact as well.
The possibilities are endless in the 200 free, but the Broncos will look to the experience of Rohling and Wubbena to lead the way for a pair of newcomers. While Boucher is a viable option in the 200, look for Paige LaPorte to make an immediate impact as a versatile and strong addition to the team. Junior newcomer Chelsea Lopus and sophomores Rachael Meisner, Nelson, Nowatzke, Sanchez-O’Dell and Tisha Taylor should provide depth in the sprints.
Despite not being able to compete her first year after transferring to Boise State, the Broncos look forward to sophomore Kelly Forrester challenging some of the other sprinters in practice while building her strength and natural speed throughout the season. “Kelly is extremely talented and powerful,” Hill said. “She has an amazing feel for the water.”
FREESTYLE - DISTANCE
A trio of experienced swimmers will lead Boise State in the distance events. Rachael Meisner notched record times at last year’s conference championships and returns for her sophomore season with more confidence and a new set of expectations. In addition to her accomplishments in the sprints, Nathalie Rohling is a definite force in the 500 free and is expected to play a major role in the success of the Broncos distance events. Anchoring the returning distance core and providing leadership is junior and team captain Katelyn Lofland. Look for her to be a key contributor.
An important factor that should not go unnoticed is the depth the Broncos have in these events with the talents of Kelly Knapp, Samantha Eichner and the addition of Paige LaPorte. While Knapp and Eichner will provide a sense of experience, the Broncos feel that LaPorte’s presence in the water will push the distance group to a new level.
Keeping on pace with last season, the 200 and 400 IM are expected to be strong suits for the Broncos as they not only return sophomore Tara Hahto, but look to be much improved with the addition of a pair of strong competitors in Chelsea Lopus and Emily Irvin. While Hahto owns the school record in both the 200 and 400 IM, teammates Erica Christinson, Lauren Keele, Rachael Meisner and Kim Nelson recorded strong performances last season and have improved their times during the off-season.
The Broncos welcome a talented young group of women to the program with the addition of their first two recruited divers in Boise State history, Brittney Jones and Erin Lionberger. After training with renowned diving coach Jim Southerland at Pacific Northwest Diving Club, Jones is expected to lead the Broncos as she fine-tunes her skills and improves her strength throughout the season. Making her diving debut is sophomore Tana Loan who walked on last spring and has shown tremendous promise and potential.
The Boise State swimming & diving team looks to the upcoming season with a sense of excitement and readiness. The goal of the season is to swim up and to compete against some of the best teams in the country. With a schedule that would make even the most experienced and accomplished programs tremble, the Broncos will look to prove themselves against swimming powers such as the University of Washington and the University of Utah.
Ask coach Hill what she hopes to gain from the upcoming season with such a challenging schedule and she will give it to you straight. “We won’t be as concerned with our dual meet record as we will with performing at our best during the championship phase of the season,” she said. “Great competition will prepare us well for our conference and NCAA championships.”