by Amanda Brasgalla, PLU Sports Information Assistant
PARKLAND – After a record-breaking 2012-13 season, the Pacific Lutheran swim team begins its 2013-14 campaign Friday night with high hopes.
"We're really excited," PLU head coach Matt Sellman said. "We've got a great group of returners and recruits that came in ready to go. The attitude, work ethic and enthusiasm are really strong right now. So that coupled with good talent, which we've been establishing and building the last few years, this'll be a great year."
With a large number of returners and a speedy freshman class, the team looks to build on the success of last year. Not only did the women's and men's teams break a combined 21 school records at the Northwest Conference Championship, but they also finished with several swimmers in the top three of their respective events.
Many of those top performers return this year. Corban Elliott returns after placing first in the NWC in the backstroke with a time of 52.15. Brian Ruggles finished fourth in the 100 free with a time of 47.22 and also swam on the four record-shattering men's relay teams. Two-time record-holder Justin Murrell will leads the distance swimmers this season in the 500 free and 1,650 free.
"We have a lot of talent," Sellman said. "We've got a lot of potential within the roster, and I love watching all of them swim. We have high aspirations. We have lofty goals that face a significant challenge but I think we're up to it."
After posting a third-place finish on the men's side and a fourth-place finish on the women's, the Lutes hope to climb even higher in the conference this season. Even though the Northwest Conference Championships are not until February, Sellman looks forward to the effort put into training and competition. Regular conference meets begin in November, but each meet is seen as a stepping stone toward the championship.
"Every year we always look really forward to the Northwest Conference Championships, and that's no difference this year," Sellman said. "Any dual meet is fun, any chance to race."
The races this year will be full of high competition with Whitman and Whitworth in the conference. For the past few years, the two teams have dominated the winner's podium at the conference championships. At last year's conference meet Whitworth swept both team titles, while Whitman placed second for men and third for women.
The Lutes strive for excellence despite the fierce competition.
"We have a lot of goals, and we talk about them on a regular basis," Sellman said. "For our men, we want to continue very strong in the top three or four in the conference. And the women this year, we have a legitimate chance to compete for the Northwest Conference Championship."
With experienced and talented female competitors including Kina Ackerman, Natasha Sioda, Hanna Armstrong and several relay teams, the Lutes could have a shot. Ackerman, a senior at PLU, finished in the top three in three of her individual events at last year's conference meet. She also took part in two PLU record-breaking relays: the 200 medley relay (2.09.66) and the 400 medley relay (3:57:05).
Sioda, the PLU record holder for the 100 backstroke (58.70) and third-place finisher in the 200 backstroke, returns for her sophomore season. Armstrong, another sophomore, will also bring some competition as a third-place finisher in the 500 free and a second-place finisher in the 200 free.
That trio provides only a glimpse of PLU's swimmers to watch this season. With a total of four different relay records being broken last year, along with several consolation and final finishes, the team holds a lot of depth going into this year. Heightened by the addition of a talented freshman class, the Lutes' goals aim for the podium.
"We're pretty lofty," Sellman said. "High standard, high expectations, and hopefully we can get to the top of the mountain."
The top of the mountain may be high, but the Lutes look forward to the challenge of the climb. It all begins Friday, when PLU hosts College of Idaho in a season-opening meet at 6 p.m. at the PLU pool.