With the beginning of the swim & dive season quickly approaching, some of NC State’s best student athletes are set to begin competing for the Wolfpack again this month. Fresh off of an incredible second-place finish at NCAAs, the women appear stronger than ever thanks to the return of some star swimmers. And despite the men’s underwhelming NCAA finish, this year’s batch of recruits possibly marks the best class of freshmen NC State has ever seen.
Although several key swimmers graduated at the culmination of the 2020-21 season, such as Luke Sobolewski, Victoria Fonville and NCAA champ Sirena Rowe, this year’s recruiting class more than makes up for the loss. Freshman Aiden Hayes is tapped as the top swimming recruit from the class of 2021, and his best times already put him in the scoring threshold at NCAAs.
Another star newcomer for the Wolfpack is freshman Grace Sheble, a Virginia native who’s already fast enough to be an NCAA scorer in the 400-yard individual medley, 200-yard individual-medley and 200-yard butterfly. Furthermore, freshman Caroline Sheble is set to join her twin sister this month and prove to be a scoring threat in the 400-yard individual medley and 200-yard butterfly.
Between the introduction of top-20 recruits such as the Sheble sisters and Hayes and the return of almost every 2021 NCAA champ, the depth of the swim & dive team this season is incredible. Senior Kylee Alons, junior Katharine Berkoff and senior Sophie Hansson will return as three of the fastest sprint stars NC State has ever seen, and junior Ross Dant will inevitably lead the distance swimmers fresh off of two top-three finishes in the 400- and 800-yard freestyle events at 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials.
On an unfortunate note, Olympic medalist Noè Ponti announced in late September that he would be leaving NC State to return to his training base in Switzerland. Ponti, who finished third in the 100-meter butterfly in Tokyo earlier this year, cited mental fatigue upon arriving in the U.S. as the cause for his departure. At this point, it remains unclear if Ponti will return to the NCAA.
Despite the loss of Ponti, the Wolfpack will remain a force to be reckoned with under head coach Braden Holloway’s intense training and expertise. Furthermore, two new coaches have joined the staff since NCAAs: head diving coach Wesley Mattice, who led George Washington University to two Atlantic 10 conference titles, and Rebecca Westfall, who has a combined 12 years of experience coaching Division I, II and III swim teams.
The season is slated to begin on Oct. 13, when the Wolfpack will compete against UNC-Chapel Hill in the UNC Triple Distance meet. It’s likely that distance swimming stars such as Dant, graduate student Eric Knowles and sophomore James Plage, among others, will make their debuts this Wednesday night.
Other notable meets on the schedule include a home meet against top-ranked Tennessee on Oct. 15-16, as well as two mid-season meets against Virginia and Texas. Virginia remains the NC State women’s top competitor this season, boasting a top-5 recruiting class and a stellar coaching staff.
A promising batch of recruits and the return of several top competitors spells out an encouraging season for the Wolfpack. Although top teams like Virginia and Auburn will inevitably test the team’s depth, it’s fair to say that NC State has the talent to rise to the challenge to pull off another record-breaking season.