Diving with high expectations, Wisconsin swim teams set to open season this weekend

M.J. Mao, a freshman from Hawaii, comes to Madison as a top-end breaststroke and butterfly talent.

Image By: Brandon Moe

After graduating one of the largest senior classes in recent memory, the Wisconsin swimming and diving team is back in 2017-’18 with a new, more versatile look. With an incoming class that includes two national champions, an Olympian and three high-profile transfers, head coach Whitney Hite and his team should have little trouble climbing the ranks of the Big Ten.

As a whole, the graduation losses of seven All-Americans sting, but the incoming talent Hite was able to bring to Madison combined with the returning underclassmen makes for a young but scary-good Badger squad.

Two new athletes who will make an impact right away are junior Tyler Zelen, a transfer from North Dakota, and M.J. Mao, a freshman from Hawaii. Zelen comes in right away with a sub-20-second 50-yard freestyle and should immediately take over Cannon Clifton’s spot on relays, as well as put up some nice times in the sprints.

Mao adds a wrinkle the Badgers haven’t had in a few years: A top-end breaststroke and butterfly talent. As a U.S. Junior National champion in the 100-yard breaststroke, Mao will be essential to both medley relays and individual events during his first year on campus. In addition to Zelen and Mao, the Badger men add six other athletes with national and international experience, including Qatari Olympian Noah Al-Khulaifi and Israeli national teamer Ido Haber.

Key returners for the men’s team include a large group of sophomores who all narrowly missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships last season. Kevin Pomeroy, Cooper Hodge and Michael Milinovich all improved rapidly over the course of their first season in Madison and look to be veritable threats this year. Senior captains Victor Goicoechea and Ryan Stack are back and ready to pick up right where they left off, scoring points on both the conference and national level.

The women’s team picked up two high-impact junior transfers this year in Katie Coughlin and Sydney Lofquist, both of whom will be relied upon to score right away and fill the holes created by graduation losses. In addition to the transfers, the incoming freshman class adds ten women who have talent in diving, breaststroke and butterfly — all areas that were a little thin for the Badgers last year. One freshman to watch this year is Alex Reddington, a 200-yard butterfly specialist who competes for Great Britain internationally.

The Wisconsin women return all but five members of its NCAA Championships team, including captains Cierra Runge, a junior, and Marissa Berg, a senior. Runge, who is looking for redemption after missing the majority of the national meet with an illness, hopes to take back the national title in the 500-yard freestyle, which she won in 2015 as a freshman at California. In addition, National-qualifying backstroke threats Jess Unicomb and Beata Nelson also return after successful summers.

Wisconsin opens its season on Oct. 13 in Auburn, Ala., with a triangular meet against Auburn and Tennessee.

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