As the 2017-18 Penn State Altoona men's swimming team enters the regular season, there is a feeling of optimism. The team features a handful of key returners from last season to go along with an influx of new talent. Head coach Greg Scallen thinks that his roster of versatile swimmers bodes well for this year.
"My overall outlook is very upbeat. In the short time that we've had together thus far, I've been pleased with the chemistry that is developing," said Scallen. "Each season has its unique team dynamics, yet the primary goal is the same: to strive for and achieve individual and team excellence. That's excellence in the classroom, the swimming pool, and the campus community. I'm looking forward to the possibilities that exist with this year's teams, and if they stay consistent, work hard daily, and support each other through the process, I'm confident they will exceed their expectations. It's going to be a really exciting season."
Seven of the Lions' 13 swimmers are sophomores who are back from last season: Gino Cercone (Allison Park, PA/Shaler), Greg Landis (York, PA/West York), Caleb Marasco (Altoona, PA/Altoona), Ben McConnell (Altoona, PA/Bishop Guilfoyle), Tom Weir (Greensburg, PA/Hempfield), Dominic Woods (Pittsburgh, PA/Brentwood), and Tanner Yaw (Palmyra, PA/Palmyra). Those seven returners each played significant roles for the men's team last season, and now with a year's experience of college swimming, Scallen expects bigger things from them this year.
"Each one of the seven returners enters this season with a desire to build upon last season," said Scallen. "They have become a very close group and have been challenged to utilize that cohesiveness for positive outcomes, both in practice and in meets. They have all entered this season physically and mentally stronger than a year ago."
Scallen recognizes that the versatility of his returners is a significant benefit to the team, as the seven sophomores fill important roles for the Lions.
"Dominic Woods has shown his determination to be the dominant backstroker on this team and within the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference. Tom Weir and Greg Landis return to give the team strength in the breaststroke and individual medley events, and both have the ability to place extremely high at our championship meet in February," Scallen explained. "Gino Cercone is a utility guy who can step on the blocks in any event and give his team top placing finishes, and he will be a contender for medals in the butterfly and distance freestyle events. Tanner Yaw is a three-sport athlete and a fierce competitor who will be asked to perform at a high level in the butterfly, individual medley, and freestyle events. Caleb Marasco and Ben McConnell lead the way in the sprint and middle distance freestyle events, and they also keep things light when the team can get a little tense during long training sessions."
The Lions' roster also features six newcomers with diverse levels of experience. Senior Justin Bannister (Willow Hill, PA/Fannett-Metal) and freshmen D'Ante' Butts (Philadelphia, PA/Northeast), Diego Ibarra (Quito, Ecuador/Letort), Cheongjae Lee (Gwacheon-si Gyeonggi-do, South Korea/St. John's), Andrew Lesnett (Middletown, NY/Minisink Valley), and Songyang Mao (Dix Hills, NY/St. Anthony's) join the squad this season and will look to make an immediate positive impact.
"Andrew Lesnett comes to the program with a distinguished swimming background, and with hard work, can become one of the conference's stronger middle distance swimmers. Diego Ibarra, Songyang Mao, and Cheongjae Lee will each have an impact on our team's outcomes in all stroke disciplines," said Scallen. "Justin Bannister is a multi-sport athlete who is in his first year of competitive swimming and brings the intangibles that all coaches hope for in a student-athlete, and he'll be a top freestyle sprinter at our championship meet. De'Ante' Butts is also in his first year as a competitive swimmer, and he's adapting well to the learning process of the sport."
The Penn State Altoona men's and women's swimming teams opened their 2017-18 season in the Pitt-Bradford Panther Relays on Saturday, October 14. The teams will also travel for dual meets against AMCC opponents Pitt-Bradford (October 28), Franciscan University (November 4, women only), and Cabrini University (December 1), as well as non-conference foes Wilkes University (December 8) and Gallaudet University (January 12).
The Lions and Lady Lions, who will hold their home meets at the Altoona Area High School Pool this season during the construction of the new Adler Natatorium on campus, will host AMCC opponents Alfred State College (November 18) and Penn State Behrend (January 27), and they will also have home meets against non-conference opponents Salisbury University (November 3), Bethany College (November 11), and Wells College (January 16).
The men's and women's swimming teams' seasons wrap up in the four-day AMCC Championships, which are scheduled for February 14-17 at Penn State Behrend.