Virginia braces for ACCs

Men’s squad look to match women’s fifth consecutive championship victory

Though the Virginia men's and women's swimming and diving teams race at the same regular season meets, share the same coaches and divvy up the pool to hold practices at the same time, their similarities end when championship season arrives. While the No. 11 women's squad ventured to Blacksburg last week to nab its fifth consecutive ACC title, the No. 15 Virginia men stayed home waiting for their moment in the spotlight, which comes tomorrow.

"It's fun to watch the women's finals that they show on the ACC Network," senior David Karasek said. "It gets us all excited, and [we] want to jump in as well."

With most of the coaching staff at the women's meet, the men train with former Virginia swimmers and volunteer coaches for four days. Because they had already reached the taper portion of their training, Karasek said the absence of coach Mark Bernardino was not a cause for concern.

The women certainly did their part in starting the Virginia swimming and diving program off strong. The Cavaliers won four-of-five relay events contested during the four-day meet, as well as six individual races.

"It's very important to win the first relays," junior Lauren Perdue said. "It really boosts the team and gives them a lot of confidence. It lets the other teams know we're here."

Redshirt freshman Megan Fox, who took home a pair of titles in the 400 individual medley and 200 butterfly, was part of a freshman group which provided critical points and helped Virginia lead the meet wire to wire.

"I am so incredibly proud of our first years," Perdue said. "They really just exhibit great confidence and strength. I know from experience as a first year ACCs [are] one of the most nerve-wracking things I've ever been through, so I'm just very proud and very impressed that they were able to do what they did at their first ACCs."

Although the men's team has not relied as heavily on its freshmen during the regular season as the women have, the Cavalier men still look to their younger contributors to elevate their performance under big-meet pressure.

The swimmers with championship experience, most notably seniors Karasek and Peter Geissinger, have imparted their wisdom on teammates who will encounter the electric atmosphere of the ACC meet for the first time.

"It's going to be something completely new that they have to be prepared to experience," Karasek said. "There's going to be a lot of emotion, and the meet is seven sessions, which is way more than a lot of the younger people have ever seen."

The men's diving competition was completed during the women's meet, so Virginia already has points on the board. Senior Briggy Imbriglia broke his own school record by finishing sixth on the 3-meter springboard with a score of 376.50 points.

For the Cavalier men to duplicate the women's dominant showing, Virginia will need to pull off performances similar to those produced Feb. 4 against No. 23 N.C. State. Because they lost to No. 13 North Carolina Jan. 21, the Cavaliers enter as underdogs despite their status as four-time defending champions. The squad has lost just once at the ACC Championships since 1999 and have racked up 14 conference titles overall.

The three primary contenders for the team championship - Virginia, North Carolina and N.C. State -  all have an even 1-1 record against each other, meaning any of the three could triumph this week. The Wolfpack vaulted themselves into the conversation unexpectedly with an upset of the Tar Heels one week before being blasted by the Cavaliers.

"Our mindset is that we're going to win, but we know that it's not going to be easy," Karasek said. "We need a lot of good swims."

Former Virginia phenomena Matt McLean and Scot Robison - who combined to win four ACC Swimmer of the Championships awards during their collegiate careers - carried the team to victory last year. But now the team must prove it can replicate the feat without the now-graduated superstars.

The only current swimmer on the team with an individual ACC title to his name is Geissinger, who won the 100 butterfly last year.

Virginia has received reliable performances from sophomore distance swimmers Bradley Phillips and Jan Daniec all season, and the duo needs to come through again this week to ensure the Cavaliers' championship prospects.

The meet runs from Wednesday night until Saturday, when a champion will be crowned.

Bernardino declined to comment for this report.

Published February 22, 2012 in Sports

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