Oakland swim and dive teams prepare to continue their dominance this season

By Ryan Hegedus

For 32 straight years, the Oakland University swimming and diving teams have dominated their competition. Whether competing in the GLIAC, Mid-Continent, or the Summit League, Oakland swimming and diving has been the standard of success. The Golden Grizzlies have won their conference championship for three decades running and head coach Pete Hovland doesn’t plan on ending that streak this season.

“We want to keep the streaks going, for sure, and win our 12th Summit League championship,” Hovland said. “That would keep the streak alive for the men’s team and never losing a conference championship in school history. Doing that for both the men and women, that’s our top priority.”

Winning another conference championship is a goal the Grizzlies intend on reaching, but the 31-year coach wants his program to elevate itself to even greater heights. He has his sights on qualifying individuals for the NCAA National Championships.

“Since we left Division II, the women’s team had won five championships and the men had won the last four,” Hovland said. “Competing at the national level is where we want to get this program and being in the Top 25 is where we want to be on a consistent basis.”

The freshmen that Hovland and his assistant coaches recruited this season, including recruits from Hungary, Egypt, Canada, South Dakota and New Mexico, are just one of the keys to the success that the program hopes to achieve.

“This group we’ve brought in, maybe not in numbers but certainly on the talent side of things, they’re going to rewrite a number of our record books,” Hovland said. “They may even be the ones that really take us to the next level at the national championships in Division I, with the influx of freshmen and the talent they’re bringing.”

Also joining the Grizzlies is sophomore Nick Evans, a transfer student from the University of Maryland. At Rochester High School, Evans earned all-state honors five times and was a three-time All-American.

With so much quality incoming talent, it’s almost possible to forget just how much talent was already on Hovland’s roster.

The men’s team graduated 11 swimmers and junior Anders Jensen will be redshirting, but fifth-year senior Marcin Unold will make his return to the pool after his own redshirt year last season.

Unold, the 2007-08 Swimmer of the Year at the Summit League championships, is considered one of the most integral keys to success for Hovland’s team this year.

“He’s probably one of the more talented swimmers we’ve had since we moved to Division I, and really in school history,” Hovland said. “His sophomore year, we were Top 30 in the country single-handedly on his performances. He’s a real talent, and I think he’s hungry and wants to do well.”

The women’s team lost four swimmers to graduation, but one of those graduates was Agnes Solan — arguably the best female swimmer to ever suit up for Oakland.

“We lost Agnes Solan, and she’s going to be extremely difficult to replace, but saying that, Vanessza Balogh, a transfer student who trained with us last year but wasn’t eligible, will probably rewrite the record books in the distance events for us,” Hovland said.

Senior Chelsea Oates, Summit League Diver of the Year last season, is another member of the women’s team that Hovland is expecting to do well and help move the team closer to competing on the national stage.

“Chelsea looks as good or better right now than she did at the end of last season, so hopefully she continues to perform well. I don’t think she lost a single event last year to any team, and she carried it through to the conference championship and went on to the zones,” Hovland said. “She didn’t advance to the NCAAs, but we’re hoping in her senior year that she possibly will.”

The Grizzlies schedule, which includes six conference champions and seven NCAA Championships top 10 finishers, is annually ranked as one of the toughest in the country. To Hovland, this is all part of the plan.

“There’s such great swimming in the Midwest that we can get on a bus and in less than four hours, swim against the Big East champ, the MAC champ, the Big Ten champ, the Division III champ, the Division II runner-up, or the Horizon League champ,” Hovland said. “With the talent we have and our goals for where we’re trying to go, I want to expose us to teams like (men’s basketball head coach) Greg Kampe does in basketball … We want to swim against the best so our kids aren’t shell-shocked or feel pressure at the end of the season. They’ll have been there and done it.”

On Friday, Oct. 15, the women’s team will take part in the Tom Stubbs Relays in Bowling Green, Ohio and then will head to Toledo the very next day to face off against the defending MAC champion Rockets.

The men’s team begins its season hosting perennial contender Michigan and Big East runner-up, Notre Dame, Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. at the OU Aquatic Center.