Northwestern will be on the road Thursday against Eastern Michigan for its season opener.
Coach Jarod Schroeder has set high expectations for his team this year.
“We put together a lot tougher schedule,” he said. “What I want to do with the guys is challenge them to step up to the occasion each weekend that we swim, and to do that we need to put ourselves into a position where we’re swimming teams that may be better than us on paper.”
The Wildcats understand the need to be confident going into the highly competitive season.
“I think we need to not count ourselves out,” junior captain Van Donkersgoed said. “This year I think we need to walk into every meet knowing that we are a program that can compete with those guys, and by going and racing the best, you elevate yourself to the best.”
Ending the season in the receiving votes category of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America coaches poll with a record of 7-3-1 last year, the team hopes to crack into the top 25 this season.
“I’d like to see if we can move up a few spaces this year,” Schroeder said. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but I think we have the foundation set where the five guys that are coming in this year are a great replacement for the seven guys we lost last year as seniors.”
Included in this year’s group of freshmen are Gage Kohner and Almog Olshtein, who will play key roles in filling sprinter positions.
“A lot will be asked of them,” Schroeder said. “Because we lost the core of our sprint group, our top-50 freestyler and top-100 freestyler are gone, so Gage and Almog need to fill that void … there’s a little bit of pressure on them, the young guys.”
In total, there are five new freshmen joining the team this year.
“I’m really excited about our incoming freshman class,” Donkersgoed said. “I think we have a great group of incoming guys who are going to be impact players from the get-go.”
The team also has key swimmers returning for the 2014-15 season. Junior Jordan Wilimovsky finished second in the 1,650-yard freestyle at last year’s Big Ten Championships and fourth in the same event at NCAA Championships.
Although NU redeemed a 2012 loss to Eastern Michigan during last year’s season opener, which the Cats won 160.5 to 128.5, the team remains focused on swimming its best.
“We won’t take them lightly,” Schroeder said. “They’re a good team. It should be a good competition and a measuring stick of where we’re at.”
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