Men’s Swimming: Navigating Northwestern’s new season

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Daily file photo by Melody Song

The men’s squad launches its 2013-2014 campaign in the Sports Pavillion and Aquatics Center on Friday. Eastern Michigan will travel to Evanston to compete against the Wildcats.

John Paschall, Assistant Gameday Editor

Northwestern takes on Eastern Michigan in its season opener at the Sports Pavilion and Aquatics Center on Friday. Here are the keys to a successful season for the Wildcats and what swimmers should keep an eye on this year.

What’s new in 2013: For the past few years, NU has struggled in the diving part of dual meet competitions. The Cats lost a lot of crucial points to teams because their divers could not match the depth of  their opponents. But now that coach Jarod Schroeder has attracted divers with a few scholarships, expect the Cats to score more points in the diving portion of meets, something that will provide a tremendous morale boost to the swimmers.

Between the lanes, NU lost a couple of key contributors and almost automatic point scorers in every dual meet. Look for some of the freshmen to fill those voids eventually, even though it may take them a few meets to get their feet wet in collegiate meets.

Key to the season: Rookies will have to step up quickly for the Cats to be a contender among conference competitors later in the year. The Big Ten is home to some of the top swimming programs in the country. The teams NU faces later, including Purdue, Wisconsin and Iowa, are no joke. They boast rosters full of talent. Though the Cats’ top swimmers may keep pace with their conference counterparts, it’s the depth that will determine whether NU can pull out victories. With one of the smaller rosters in the Big Ten, NU will need its freshmen to make a splash early on and help out the upperclassmen. Schroeder isn’t afraid to toss his youngsters into action right away.

“There’s probably going to be a bit of a learning curve this fall,” he said. “But I’m going to try to expose the freshmen to a lot of competition early in the season and see how they respond.”

Freshman to watch: Jonathan Lieberman, freestyler

Schroeder has already asked many of his young guys to keep up with NU’s distance freestyler and Energizer bunny, sophomore Jordan Wilimovsky, in practice. They’ve responded and senior captain Tim Smith  has really taken notice of Lieberman’s approach to practice everyday.

“He’s always coming to practice to get better,” Smith said. “He’s got a great attitude. He’s very dedicated to the team and willing to do anything.”

Lieberman was one of the top recruits from Minnesota and was an all-state, all-conference and all-America honoree during high school.

Returning swimmer to watch: Uula Auren, breaststroker

Auren had a difficult year in 2012, spending most of the year recovering from an offseason shoulder surgery. He never appeared fully revived and struggled to regain his racing form. But after a healthy offseason, the junior should make an impact for the Cats in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events.

“To have him for a whole season and not really have any limitations on him throughout the first seven weeks is good,” Schroeder said. “I think things are starting to come together.”

Revenge match: Eastern Michigan stunned NU last year in its season opener. Smith said it won’t be hard for the team to become energized for this meet.

“There’s a bitter taste in our mouth from last year,” Smith said. “We wrote them off too easily last year. Our big goal is not to just beat them but to blow them out. They were pretty excited to beat us last year. So we want to make sure they know that was just a fluke, and it’s not going to happen again.”

Want to know more about the Wildcats on the team? Check out The Daily’s profiles on senior Chase Stephens and freshman Andy Jovanovic.

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Twitter: @John_Paschall