S&D teams send 20 athletes to nationals

GVL / Mohamed Azuz
Swimmers cheer on their team mates at a meet earlier this season.

GVL / Mohamed Azuz Swimmers cheer on their team mates at a meet earlier this season.

Lucas Rains

Grand Valley State University has boasted one of the winningest athletic departments in all of the NCAA Division II for the past decade.

The GVSU men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams have been one of the most successful, finishing as two of the top teams in the country in four of the last five seasons. The Lakers will hope to continue the trend this week at the NCAA Division II National Championships.

GVSU will send 20 individuals — 10 men and 10 women — to Geneva, Ohio, to face off against the best swimmers in the country. Seven student-athletes will be making their first trip to the National Championship meet, while the other 13 will look to add to their All-American honors.

The Laker men enter as the No. 7 team in the country and most recently placed second at the GLIAC Championship meet, as did the the No. 11 Laker women, at the Spire Institute in Geneva. Both teams are looking to build off their success at the same pool.

“It’s nice that the conference meet was also at the Spire Institute, so we are familiar with the facility,” GVSU coach Andy Boyce said. “Our goal is to start going a little bit faster than our times from conference. We had some great swims at conference and great diving, and we’re hoping to improve upon that this week.”

Among the challenges of facing off against the top athletes in the country, the Lakers also had a quick turnaround from the conference meet in terms of preparation.

“With it being so close to conference, we had to build back up and train real hard for two weeks and then cut back at the end,” Boyce said. “We were very fortunate that we really didn’t have anyone out sick. We’ve been healthy and injury-free and I’m really excited to see what we can do.”

The 10 Laker men competing at nationals include seniors Erik Aakesson, Michael Griffith, Kyle Gunderson and Aaron Marken; freshman Danny Abbott; juniors Sven Kardol and Milan Medo; and sophomores Gianni Ferrero, Nate Wagner and Nick Zacek.

Among those men, Boyce highlighted Ferrero, pointing out that he remains the No. 1 seed in the 200-meter freestyle event.

“Our focus is to score as many points as possible against the best Division II swimmers in the nation and become one of the best five programs in the nation,” Aakesson said. “Our goal is to get a top-five finish in the meet and get some national championships.”

The Laker women will send freshmen Anna Barry, Kayla Marquardt and Meghan Falconer; juniors Sarah Roeser, Olivia Shultz and Emily Eaton; seniors Danielle Vallier, Katie Vulpetti and Caitlyn Madsen; and sophomore Taylor Wiercinski.

Vallier is an experienced senior who already has seven All-American honors. She is highly-ranked in the 100-meter breaststroke. Wiercinski, while just a sophomore, is among the best divers in the country.

Boyce noted the importance of finishing well individually and in relay events. The big points are in the relays, so the Lakers are excited to see what they can do in those events.

“It’s the greatest stage in college swimming and we are excited to show what we can bring,” Aakesson said.