The College of Staten Island men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs will officially dive into their respective seasons tonight, traveling to Pace University to take on the NCAA Division II program.  The early season start will bring with it the promise of high hopes for things to come, as a grand total of 14 freshmen faces will represent CSI in the pool this season.

The face of the program will change more on the men’s side of the ledger, where CSI graduated dynamic swimmers Pavel Buyanov (who won three NCAA gold medals and was a two-time CSI Athlete of the Year) and Nikolay Shevchenko.  This year’s unit currently boasts 15 highly capable swimmers, but with a heavy 9 new faces.  NCAA national qualifiers Vladislav Romanov and Danila Novikov are expected to be the anchors with both expected to be added to the depth chart as the season progresses.  Sophomore and NCAA qualifier Andrey Tarasov was lost for the first semester but is also expected to be added by midseason, making CSI a contender for national prowess once again in 2012.

Until then, the veterans, together with returning diver Andy Gil, and sophomores Jian Wang, and Mitchell Lovell will be asked to guide a young team in the pool.  That shouldn’t exclude the team from being successful out of the gate, as the young Dolphins will be expected to hit the ground running with a host of freshmen talent.

John Pignatelli will team with Gil on the diving boards, and Head Coach Oleg Soloviev has already remarked on the exceptional progress he has made, along with swimmers like Rati Pruidze and Timur Rakhimov (who is also expected to join the team at some point during the season.)  The depth continues with swimmers Michael Gostkowski and Nolan Reese, Staten Island high school products.

“We have the potential to send five swimmers to Nationals this year and our goal is get better on the national arena,” said Soloviev of his unit.  The coach contends that depth and roster numbers will be an issue when it contends for a conference championship, something that has eluded the team since 2005.  “We have the ability to win every single race at CUNY’s but we will have to battle to win the conference championship because we lack the roster numbers and the ability to score points like other teams can.”

While national prowess is the focus on the men’s side, Soloviev is equally upbeat on the women’s side, where improvement will be the main objective.  If early season practices are an indicator, one can expect a huge upswing by the Dolphins this season on the women’s side.

“Our ladies are doing a tremendous job, and almost our entire returning team is better because they are putting in so much work in the pool,” said Soloviev.

The anchor to the retuning unit sits with two-sport stars Vasiliki Stergioula and Priscila Alvarez (who double on the volleyball team) along with Natasha Caicedo, Joanna Irizarry-Zaraza, Elaina Lei, and last year’s CSI Women’s Swimming Rookie of the Year, Lauren Overeem.

“We have a very ambitious, hard-working, and focused nucleus.  They are extremely upbeat for match play and it makes the entire team excited.

CSI will also get plenty of help from its new cast of swimmers and divers.  The Dolphins suffered a diving setback when ECAC-qualifier April Bartlett transferred in 2011, but the Dolphins are hoping for great things on the diving board from frosh Stephanie Collyer.  Academic sophomore Jocelyn Padilla has exhibited excellent strokes, and will join non-athletic transfer Ursula Pachas (Brooklyn College), and Patricia Velloza, as new faces who should score points right away for the Dolphins.

“We are going to take a step forward competitively and we still have a very young team,” said Soloviev, whose roster of 14 sports no seniors and just two juniors.  “Our goal is to look like an improved team and compete well at the CUNY’s and Metropolitan Swimming & Diving Championships.”

For now, the Dolphins will get underway with the Setters this evening at 6pm.  The CUNYAC Championships are slated for early-February, with Metro’s to follow later that month.