The College of Staten Island men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs will take center stage today at Lehman College, as they set their sights on the 2011 CUNYAC Championships.  The three-day event will kick-off with diving events today and resume through Friday and Saturday morning where medalists will be presented along with championship teams crowned.
Both teams will have a lot to look forward, looking to the CUNYAC Championships not only as a part of a championship run, but to bolster times and diving scores which have spiraled upward through the season under Head Coach Oleg Soloviev.
The CSI men’s program ripped through the CUNYAC regular season, sporting an unblemished 4-0 conference mark to go with a 5-2-1 regular season standing.  The team is anchored by defending NCAA finalists Pavel Buyanov, Nikolay Shevchenko, and Vladislav Romanov, who is personally enjoying his finest season, specializing in backstroke events.  On the diving board, Andy Gil has prospered, and should be a CSI highlight when the Dolphins start with diving.
Newcomer Danila Novikov has been hard to avoid this season as the freshman has decimated the competition, specializing in short and long distance freestyle events as well as adding top times in relay events.  Second semester edition Andrey Tarasov is a top-time getter for the Dolphins this season in the 400-yard Individual Medley, where he will be spotlighted in the CUNYAC meet this week.
Based on regular season performances in the pool, CSI is slated as the favorite in 19 of the 20 events at the championship, but the CUNYAC title has been elusive for the Dolphins who haven’t won the meet since 2005.  The five-team event awards scoring in 16 places, meaning the championship favors a squad with depth, something CSI has lacked in the past.  That’s where the Dolphins hope to improve in their year’s faring.  Swimmers like Joe Lee will look for quality points in the 200 & 400 IM as will Mohamed Hikal in the 50 & 100 Free and Mitchell Lovell in the 100 Butterfly & 100 Breaststroke.  Other notables are Harith Wickramarante, Louis Algarin, Zhihao Zhang, and Dmitry Lyubarskiy.
“Our goal is to take first place in every event,” said Soloviev of his top-heavy group.  “We will try and do the best we can to place first overall but the talent level with the other schools is very high top to bottom and it will be a challenge.  We have a chance, so we’re going to do our best swimming and diving and let the score decide.”
On the women’s end, improvement in the pool will be the overlying key, as the Dolphins finished the season 5-5 overall and 4-2 in conference action.  Senior Gabriella Villarruel leads the team, having posted a top time for CSI in six separate events this season including the 200 IM, 100 Butterfly, and 200 Butterfly, where she will be featured at the CUNYAC Championship.  Diver April Bartlett, an ECAC finalist on the boards last season is an odds-on-favorite to medal in both the 1-meter and 3-meter competition at this year’s finals as well.
Jessica Pifalo (400 IM, 100 & 200 Backstroke), Priscilla Alvarez (500 Free, 1650 Free), Elaine Lei (200 Free, 100 & 200 Breast) and Vasiliki Stergioula (200 Free, 100 Back) will try and garner much needed points while other notables like Natasha Caicedo and Lauren Overeem will hopefully garner points as well.  Overall, Coach Soloviev is confident his team will put up their strongest effort of the season in time for CUNY’s.
“We have a very nice, solid, team this year,” said an upbeat Soloviev.  “Our group is really together.  They practice hard and always bring out the best in each other.  We have a chance for a few first place finishes and that’s exciting.  We’re certainly limited and we are not a favorite going in, but I think if we swim our best we can be very happy with the results.”
All legs of the CUNYAC Championship are held at Lehman College and admission is free of charge for all spectators.  The championship will commence with diving at 1pm on Thursday.  Friday’s events will again start at 1pm and the Championship will conclude with final events and medal presentation on Saturday at 9am.