Daily Egyptian

SIU dives into Maroon and White meet

By Aaron Graff

SIU swimming and diving is extending its appreciation to fans and professors before really getting its feet wet.

The Saluki swimming and diving teams open the season with the Maroon & White meet at 10 a.m., Saturday at the Edward J. Shea Natatorium. Coach Rick Walker said the event is a fan appreciation meet in which team members ask their professors to come watch.

“It’s good for the academic end to see these kids are doing something that’s good for them and good for the institution,” Walker said. “At the same time I think it’s really good that [the athletes] see the professors, the teachers and the GAs have an interest that goes beyond just the book.”

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SIU hosts the Saluki Miler and the Saluki Open Water meets next weekend, for the first actual competition of the year. Walker said he expects the team to do well this year, capped by a big freshmen class and solid upper-class leadership.

“That freshmen class is going nowhere without the direction and the guidance and the experience this upper class has to give them,” Walker said. “I see the future in that class, but the experience is going to be passed on to them so they have a pathway to go.”

Walker said junior Till Pallmann had the potential to make the NCAA tournament last season, and he still has the ability to make it. Pallmann finished first in the 500 and 200-yard freestyle races at the Mid-American Conference Championship last season.

“If he was close last year, he’s going to be that much closer this year,” Walker said. “I don’t think he’s any less motivated. I don’t think he works any less.”

Pallmann said his goal is the NCAA tournament this season and he was disappointed he didn’t make it last year.

The men’s team finished fifth in conference last season.

The women’s team finished third at the Missouri Valley Conference finals. Sophomore Sarah James is the only First- Team All-Conference women’s swimmer returning from last season.

She finished third in the 200-yard backstroke. James said she got better this summer by continuing to swim and lift weights.

“I’ve actually never fully lifted until I came here to SIU,” James said. “I think that changed a lot this summer. When I went home I swam and I lifted. That was a huge difference for me.”

The Missouri State University Bears have won seven consecutive MVC Championships.

Last season, the Saluki women thought they defeated the Bears on the road, but after a scoring error was fixed, were informed they lost. James said there’s potential to upset them in conference this year, but it’s hard to determine at this point.

“Last year I thought [Zhang] was going to be champion,” Zhao said. “She was so nervous. She’s young. This year both of us really want it.”

Zhao also has First-Team All-Conference senior Esther Chen and Second-Team All-Conference senior Kegan Skelton returning. Both placed second in the 3-meter dive and third in the 1-meter dive at the conference meets last year.

“I see myself improving,” Skelton said. “My goal is to still win conference both 1-meter and 3-meter.”

Skelton was the only men’s diver competing in the spring semester of 2014. This year he has three male teammates. He said he is going to push them this year, and other schools should watch out for them in upcoming years.

The women’s conference championship will take place Feb. 18-20 in Carbondale and the men’s will take place March 4-7 in Spire, Ohio.

Aaron Graff can be contacted at [email protected], on Twitter @Aarongraff_DE or 536-3311 ext. 269

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