Dec. 3, 2009

Courtesy Drury Athletics

Brian Reynolds will field one of his youngest swimming and diving squads in his 27 years as Drury's head coach this winter. But that doesn't mean the expectations change.

Though Drury has just one senior - Alexander Protsenko - on the roster in 2009-10, Reynolds still anticipates the Panthers to be in hot pursuit of their sixth consecutive NCAA Division II national title when the championships commence in mid-March in Canton, Ohio.

"Our expectations never change," says Reynolds, who enters his 28th season as the men's coach when the Panthers open the season Saturday in Columbia at the annual Mizzou Show-Me Showdown.

"We've got a good, young group of swimmers that combined with our guys we have back, should give us a chance again."

The Panthers won their fifth straight last March in Houston, Texas, in dramatic fashion, charging back from a 36.5 point deficit entering the final day to beat runner-up Wayne State (Mich.) by 38.5 points, thanks to some strong relay work and the distance efforts of now-graduated NCAA-II Swimmer of the Year Mitch Snyder.

Many of those familiar faces names to the rest of the D-II college swimming world - Yiwen Huang, Kyrill Fesenko, Snyder, etc. - are gone via graduation, but Reynolds is counting on a new batch to seize the opportunity to start a reputation themselves.

The list starts with the veteran Protsenko, who enters his third year in the program after winning the national title in the 100 Backstroke as a sophomore and then finishing second in the 200 Back while serving as a key cog on the winning 800 Freestyle Relay team last season in Houston.

Protsenko is joined by junior Sergiy Bilyov - last year's 200 Free national champion and member of two winning relay teams - to give the Panthers a solid 1-2 punch at the top. Brian Knuckles and Gerrit Thomsen are others in that junior class who are ready to take a major leap forward after two years in the program. Knuckles was a Top 10 finisher at nationals in the 500 and 1000 Free events, while Thomsen was a key part of the 200 Medley Relay winner and placed 10th in the 200 Breast.

And then comes a sophomore class that picked up valuable experience at nationals last season, a large and talented group led by the likes of Michael Winiewicz,  Jun Han Kim and Jesse Lawrence.

Winiewicz finished 12th or better in three events at nationals last March and was also a member of the record-setting 800 Free Relay squad. Kim finished second in the 400 IM, third in the 200 IM, fourth in the 200 Breast and ninth in the 100 Breast, while Lawrence might have single-handedly sparked the rally to the national title on the final day a year ago when he obliterated his personal best to finish a surprising second in the 200 Breast, in addition to swimming on the team record-setting 200 Medley Relay unit.

One of Reynolds' largest freshman groups - numbering 13 in all - dot the Panther roster this winter, and none are more heralded then former Springfield Kickapoo High School standout Matt Maurer, a five-time state champion for the Chiefs and last year's Swimmer of the Meet at the Missouri prep championships.

Mauer and backstroker Arturo Castro-Diaz, back/fly specialist Daniel Perdomo - younger brother of former DU star Alex Perdomo - freestyler Chris Jacobsen, free/fly specialist Carlos Viveros, backstroker Taylor Westby and diver Dwight Baker form the backbone of what Reynolds thinks could become a very special class for the Panthers down the road.

It's a group that will tackle the usual demanding Drury regular season schedule, one that includes dual meets with the likes of NCAA Division I foes Missouri State (twice) and Hawaii as well as D-II powers Missouri S & T, Ouachita Baptist and Truman State.