Sept. 19, 2013
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -
For the second year in a row, the Alabama swimming and diving team will open its season with a decidedly different look.
Last season, the Crimson Tide got the season started with a new coaching staff headed up by first-year head coach Dennis Pursley. This year, when Alabama opens its season Friday on the road against Delta State, it will be sporting a roster that features 30 freshmen, or nearly half the combined men's and women's roster.
"We have a lot of new faces this year," Pursley said. "With that, we've also seen a significant improvement in our overall talent level and our depth."
Alabama and Delta State both open their seasons Friday, Sept. 20 starting at 1 p.m. at the Delta State Aquatic Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
"We're going to use this meet as an opportunity to look at some of the freshmen, see where they are at this point and as a first step toward identifying who we're going to rely on as we move forward in the season," Pursley said.
Among the new faces there are two swimmers - Bonnie Macdonald and Anton McKee - who competed at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain this summer. Macdonald posted a top-20 finish in the 5-kilometer open water swim while McKee posted top-30 finishes in the distance events.
As for the returners, the men are led by senior All-American BJ Hornikel, who finished fifth in the 100 freestyle at last spring's NCAA Championships, breaking a 20-year old school record in the process. Sophomore Brian Westlake is also coming off a strong 2013 season after earning a place on the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman team in the distance events.
The women are led by junior Kristel Vourna, who was sidelined much of last season with injuries. She came back this summer at the World Championships where she posted a top-30 finish in the 100-meter butterfly. The Tide women will also look to junior Kaylin Burchell who competed at the NCAA Championships last spring and posted top-eight finishes in both the 100 and 200m breaststroke at this summer's U.S. Open in Irvine, Calif.
In the diving events, senior Paige McCleary and junior Angely Martinez are both back after reaching the championship finals at the SEC Championships again last season.
Friday's opener marks something of anomaly for the Tide, which usually gets its competitive season going in October. While a September start isn't the norm, Delta State is a familiar opponent. Pursley's first meet as the Tide's head coach came in Tuscaloosa against DSU last October. Alabama last traveled to Delta State in November 2005, posting wins on both the men's and women's side of the slate.
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