The two-time defending Mountain West Conference BYU men's swimming and diving team appears once again to be the team to beat heading into the 2001-2002 season. The team went 12-0 in dual conference meets for the first time ever last year, but competitors will be anxious to capitalize this year with the loss of seven seniors from last year's squad. All-American Arunas Savikas, Rob Morris, and Ryan Ayers will be outside the pool and working as assistant coaches.
Youth is a big factor with only one senior on the team, diver Viraj Patil. Over half of the team is new with eleven swimmers returning from last year and eleven others are returning to the pool after serving LDS missions. Leading the team this year will be junior Gary Tan, winner of 13 individual events last season and an Olympian from Singapore. Tan had a late start in preseason training after returning from the Southeastern Asian Games, where he picked up five medals: two Gold, a pair of Silver, and one Bronze. Fellow teammate and countryman Terrance Lim, a sophomore who won both the 500 and 1000 free in his first-ever collegiate event last year against Utah, joins Tan.
"We'll be tough," said head coach Tim Powers, who reached the 200-win plateau last season. Powers is the longest active head coach in the BYU men's athletic department, entering his 28th season. "This is a very competitive group with a great attitude and a strong work ethic. We expect to continue our winning ways."
The strength of this year's team has switched from distance to sprinting while boasting nine swimmers who swim the 50-freestyle in under 21 seconds, including former school record-holder Billy Betz, a junior. Junior Jeff Mason, who swam a season-best 45.50 last year in the 100 freestyle and won seven individual dual meets will lead the sprinters. Mason and teammate Mike Mullen share the school record in the 50 freestyle with a time of 20.12. Mullen won three events last season and looks to oversee the growth of younger brother Kurt, who also competes as a sprinter.
Christian Armstrong will be the lone returning swimmer from last season in the breaststroke. Austin Scott and Adam Ware, who are return to the team after serving LDS missions, will help balance the event
Incoming freshmen to watch this season are Chris Patience, the Arizona state champion and high school All-American in the 50 and 100 free, and Saul Stephens who competed in the backstroke on the New Zealand national team. Salt Lake native James Bekker has a bright future as a sprinter and only looks to improve.
The men's swimming team is well respected on all levels. The team finished 17 nationally last season in dual meet standings. They were ranked number one in academics with a team grade point average of 3.35. There were also honored locally as the Cougar Club Men's team of the year after setting a standard of excellence year after year.
Diving should be the strongest and most exciting event to watch this season. Returning are two-time All-American Aaron Russell and MWC Diver of the Year Justin Wilcox. Highly recruited diver Andy Brady, a state champion from Virginia, has a bright future ahead with this year's team. Patil should perform well on the platform dive and sophomore Justin Beardall is returning from a mission after doing well in the conference championships as a freshman.
"This year we have the greatest men's diving team ever assembled at BYU," said diving coach Keith Russell, who was an All-American in his diving days as a Cougar. "I am very, very excited about this years potential."