UA swim & dive teams storm into new year with big wins

So far, the new year has been good to the University of Arizona swimming and diving teams.

The Wildcat women’s swim team hosted Oregon State, Northern Arizona, and New Mexico State on the first weekend of the month and gobbled up first-place finishes in every event.

And the men’s diving team swept the competition at the Bruin Diving Invitational at UCLA the following week.  Arizona’s freshman import from Puerto Rico, Rafael Quintero, took first place in the 1-meter and 2-meter events in the opening days and then wrapped up the sweep by also winning the platform competition on the final day of the three-day event.

The women, who went into their four-team event on Jan. 4 ranked No. 6 in the country, improved their record to 8-2 in dual meets this season.

Bonnie Brandon and Margo Geer formed a two-person wrecking crew for Arizona, combining for seven first-place finishes.

Brandon, a tall, imposing freshman from Colorado, won the 100 back, 200 back, 500 free, and swam a leg of the winning 400 free relay.  Geer, a junior from Ohio, turned in top performances in the 200 free, 100 free, and joined in winning the 200 medley relay.

Three other Arizona swimmers took two titles apiece: Shannyn Hultin (100 free, 200 IM),Chelsey Salli (100 breast, 200 breast), and Lauren Smart (200 medley relay, 100 fly).

Ashley Evans, a junior from Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, added a first-place finish in the 200 fly to round out the pile of awards for the Cats.

The women divers also showed well at the Bruin Invitational a week later, but it was the men’s team that stole the show.

After shaking off the rust that comes with going almost two months without competing, the men placed four divers in the top eleven finishers at the invitational held at Spieker Aquatics Center at UCLA.

But it was the dominance of the youngster from Puerto Rico that propelled the Cats through the event, which drew teams from Arizona, California, Florida, and Kansas.

Quintero, a 2011 Junior National Champion from Rio Grande, didn’t just win the three diving events – he was dominant in each event.  He finished 40 points ahead of runner-up Collin Pollard of Cal to win the 1-meter, won the 3-meter by 50 points, and ran away with the platform medal by scoring 726.50 points to Pollard’s 621.25.

Dominic Ricotta came in seventh for the Cats (545.65), Josh Bidak took ninth (456.35), and Hayden Sells finished in 11th place (414.15).

Samanth Pickens added a fourth first-place award for the Cats by winning the 1-meter women’s competition, while a local athlete contributed an 11th place finish.  Izzy Diamond, a sophomore from Catalina Hills High School in Tucson, advanced to the finals with a score of 407.70.

The pace picks up again for the Wildcats this weekend as they host back-to-back duals with conference foes, California and Stanford.

Both the men’s and women’s squads are trying to build on the success of last season, the first under new head coach, Eric Hansen.  The men went undefeated in dual meets last season and captured a fourth place at the NCAA Championship, while the women took fifth at the championships and posted a 9-4 overall record.

They are entering the home stretch with just this weekend’s duals, a trip to Texas, and then the inevitable meeting with Arizona State on Feb. 9 to wrap up the regular season.

The ASU men’s team is unranked at this point, while UofA is holding steady at No. 6.  However, the women’s match-up would pit currently ranked teams.  Arizona is No. 10, but dropped from No. 7 in the last poll.  The Sun Devils are moving up the polls, currently ranked No. 23 after bumping up from No. 25.

The meeting this year is in Tucson.  The water will be churning at Hillenbrand Aquatic Center.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)