In the eyes of Wisconsin swimming and diving head coach Whitney L. Hite, the 2012 women's swim team is the perfect combination of the old and the new. After graduating five NCAA qualifying student-athletes last season, including recently-named U.S. National A Team member and 2011-12 Big Ten champ (100 breast and 200 medley relay), Ashley Wanland, the Badgers will look to build on the leadership of their nine seniors and improve across the board.
"We lost a lot of points last year, but I don't think it's rebuilding, I think of it more as reloading," Hite said. "We're bringing in some good freshman but most importantly I feel like all of our returners are better than they were last year at this point."
Highlighted by senior co-captains Hannah Ross and Ruby Martin, Wisconsin will attempt to make an even bigger jump than it did last season, finishing fourth at the Big Ten championships following a seventh-place finish in 2010-11, and a 15th-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
The women's squad begins its season in East Lansing, Mich., on Sept. 28, as it will swim against Michigan State before traveling to Ann Arbor the following day to compete against national-power Michigan.
"I don't think I've ever been associated with a team that's had meets in September, so that's a very early start," Hite said. "And certainly in traveling to take on Michigan State and Michigan, we're facing a great test right off the bat."
Following home meets against UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay, the Badgers will travel to Minnesota before making the trip west to take on Stanford and California, two of the country's top programs, on separate dates.
Hite, who compiled this schedule with the hopes of preparing his student-athletes for the Big Ten and NCAA championships in February and March, has stocked the 2012 slate with trips to Stanford, USC and California, among others.
"If you look at our overall schedule, it's stronger than it was last year," Hite stated. "My main concern is making sure that everyone is prepared when we get to the Big Ten and NCAA meets."
Following a home meet against Northwestern on Nov. 8, the Badgers will hit the road for a dual with Big Ten foe Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. Hite believes this is the premiere meet of the fall semester and believes his squad will bode well after a few days of rest. The Ohio State Invitational will provide a good measuring stick of where the team is and where they want to be heading into the holiday break and the new year.
With a semester of swimming under their belts, the team will train in Hawaii for 10 days while taking on the University of Hawai'i on Jan. 5. The big test comes seven days later, when the Badgers head back to the mainland to take on USC in Los Angeles.
"I feel that meet is really important in terms of getting us back into our racing mode," Hite said. "And if you want to be the best, you have to seek out the best and that's exactly what we're trying to get across to our athletes."
In what will be UW's final tune-up for their last home meet and the Big Ten Championships, the Badgers will swim against perennial-powers Virginia and Virginia Tech on Jan. 25 and 26, respectively, before heading home for their final home meet, the Big Ten Quad Duals, on Feb. 1-2. After finishing its season at home in early February, the women will make the trip to Bloomington, Ind., on Feb. 20-23 for the Big Ten Championships. Those who swim and qualify will move on to the 2012 NCAA Championships in Indianapolis, Ind.
"I think overall the depth of this team is better this year on the women's side," Hite said. "And that's how you get better. In my opinion, if everyone is improving then the team benefits as a whole."
Badgers to Watch
"We are looking for our freshman to step up this season," women's dive head coach Anton Slobounov said. "Kari Campbell has the right tools and natural ability to impact our team right away. Out staff is excited to see how she performs this year."
Backstroke: The backstroke should be a strong event for UW this season with senior co-captains Ross and Martin anchoring the group. Martin, a 2011 First Team All-American and First Team All-Big Ten honoree, will look to qualify for the NCAA Championships for the second-straight year. NCAA finalist Hannah Ross will also be a vital piece to the puzzle for the Badgers.
Sprint freestyle: The Martin sisters highlight the spring freestyle squad. Sophomore Ivy Martin is one of the more promising second-year returners to look for in 2012. Rebecka Palm has emerged as a premier sprint freestyle swimmer, while freshman Annie Tamblyn will add some depth for UW in the event.
Individual Medley: Senior Laura Miller will lead the group after competing in the 200 IM at the 2012 NCAA Championships. Monica Stitski will also be a premiere IM swimmer, having narrowly missed the final round of races in the 400 IM at last year's NCAAs. NCAA qualifier Aja Van Hout will also be a marquee performer in the IM this season for the Badgers.
Distance freestyle: Freshman Jenny Holtzen will carry the load in the distance and mid-distance events, and Monika Stitski and Aja Van Hout will also add to the strong mid-distance group in 2012.
Butterfly: Rebecka Palm leads the way in the butterfly and will serve as one of the leaders of the junior class this season. Palm received all-american recognition last season following her effort in the 200 medley relay at the NCAA Championships.
Breaststroke: In the breaststroke, depth is the name of the game and fortunately for the Badgers they have a solid core of swimmers to lead them in this event. UW's top returner is Paulina Grawlow, while LSU transfer Emily Schwabe will be expected to make a huge impact from day one. A trio of freshmen, Anna Meinholz, Kate Criter and Courtney Fosse, will all be asked to step in and provide depth right away in the breaststroke event.