One last dip

By Gus Bode

Sometimes revenge is a dish best served wet.

Just ask the Saluki men’s swimming and diving team.

When SIU hosts Western Kentucky in a 1 p.m. dual meet Saturday at the Recreation Center – the Salukis’ final home competition – memories of being dunked in unfriendly waters will still be fresh.

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“Last year we fell short to them in a dual meet and we’ll try to get a little revenge for the loss,” junior Stephan Ackermann said.

The Hilltoppers edged the Salukis 131-112 in Bowling Green, Ky., furthering a rivalry known for its intensity. Half of SIU’s 16-man roster was around for the loss.

While coach Rick Walker said his team respects the Hilltoppers, he admitted Western Kentucky is a team the Salukis take special pride in drowning.

“There are two teams throughout my history here that we love to hate and Western Kentucky is one of them and Missouri State is another,” Walker said.

A quick look at the Sun Belt Conference’s top performances of 2006-07 shows the Salukis’ confidence is buoyed by six conference records in their first year of league competition. Ackermann, sophomore Vinicius Waked, junior Antonio Santoro, and the 400- and 800-yard freestyle relay teams all have at least one conference mark.

But another glance shows the Hilltoppers with an 8-0 dual-meet record compared to SIU’s 7-1 mark.

Walker said comparisons of dual meet records might not be the best judge of which team sinks and which team swims, and Saturday is no time for SIU to come up for breath.

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“Right now Western Kentucky is the team to beat in the Sun Belt and we will be hard-pressed to do it,” Walker said. “I look to our guys to step up and do the very best that they can and let’s see if we can get it done.”

And getting it done becomes more pressing with the Sun Belt Men’s Championships surfacing in two weeks. Fast times could be confidence boosters and give the Salukis a chance to improve on their already speedy times.

Santoro said the dual would also give the team an opportunity to assess itself.

“This meet, we can tell where we are and where we need to be in order to swim at conference as fast as possible,” Santoro said.

If those reasons are not enough to heat the pool at the Shea Natatorium to a boil, three seniors will take their final home laps as Salukis.

Walker waxed poetic on what Saturday’s meet will mean to Ben Palacios, Case Gasparovich and Andrew Flor.

“It’s one of those things that is a picture in an album full of pictures but it’s one of the pictures on the last page,” Walker said. “The pictures on the last page are usually the ones you remember when you close the book.”

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