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Oct. 12, 2012

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October 12, 2012

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina head swimming and diving coach McGee Moody calls his program’s 2012-13 schedule one of the toughest in school history, and Saturday’s season opener against North Carolina and new SEC member Texas A&M is one of many reasons why.

The Gamecocks will host the Tar Heels and Aggies in a tri meet at 12 p.m. on Saturday at the Blatt P.E. Center/Carolina Natatorium. The meet opens a schedule that features six teams that finished 16th or better at last year’s NCAA Championships on the men’s side and five teams that finished in the top 20 at the women’s NCAA Championships. The Aggies placed 13th (men) and sixth (women) at last year’s national championship, while the Tar Heels finished 14th (men) and 19th (women).

“We have a lot of new folks on the roster,” Moody said. “You have to immediately show them what the SEC is all about. I don’t want anything catching them off guard in February (at the SEC Championships). It’s an extremely tough schedule, but it’s something that we do on purpose. We want our student-athletes to be exposed to very high-level swimming.”

The Aggie men went 5-2 last season, while the women’s squad turned in a 6-0 record. The Texas A&M women’s team returns a pair of Olympic finalists in juniors Breeja Larson and Cammile Adams. Larson finished sixth in the 100-meter breaststroke, and Adams claimed fifth in the 200-meter butterfly. Both Tar Heel squads put together 7-2 records in 2011-12.

The Gamecock women went 7-3 a year ago, which was one of the best records in program history, and finished 29th at the NCAA Championships. The winning season gave South Carolina back-to-back winning records for the first time since 1994-95. On the men’s side, the Gamecocks went 5-4 to achieve back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1993-94.

The South Carolina women will have 27 returning student-athletes and 15 newcomers. Juniors Amanda Rutqvist and Rachael Schaffer are expected to lead the Gamecocks in the pool, and sophomore diver Patricia Kranz will be one of the team’s leaders on the boards.

Rutqvist, who is the Gamecocks’ top breaststroker, earned her third All-America honor last season by finishing 15th in the 200 breaststroke at the NCAA Championships. She is the school record holder in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke with times of 1:00.20 and 2:07.86, respectively.

Schaffer narrowly missed earning her first All-America honor a year ago, finishing 17th in the 400 IM at the NCAA Championships. A native of Baltimore, Md., Schaffer is one of the Gamecocks top all-around swimmers after winning 12 individual races last season.

Kranz will look to carry on the strong diving tradition at South Carolina. She scored twice at the SEC Championships last season, finishing 14th on the one-meter springboard and ninth on the platform.

“She came in last year as a freshman and did a great job for us,” Moody said. “Now she’s taking over that leadership role. The one thing that you know about our divers is that (head diving coach) Todd Sherritt is going to have them ready every week.”

After missing out on the NCAA Championships a year ago, the Gamecock men are primed to make a trip to this year’s national championship in Indianapolis, Ind. South Carolina has 16 letter winners returning and six newcomers.

Junior Michael Flach returns as the team’s unquestioned leader. Flach, who took an Olympic redshirt last season, made a splash on the national scene by finishing eighth in the 200-meter butterfly at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, becoming the first Gamecock to make the finals since 1988.

“He’s done an outstanding job over the last year,” Moody said. “He’s been a great example and role model for some of the younger guys on the team. He’s a captain now, so he’s going to kind of help direct our program in the coming years. He gets the opportunity to leave his stamp on our program. We are excited about that. He’s done a great job so far.”

Juniors Matt Navata and Gerard Rodriguez are expected to join Flach as some of the Gamecocks’ top swimmers, while sophomore Cole Miller will lead the way on the boards.

Navata had a breakout season for the Gamecocks in 2011-12, scoring points at the SEC Championships in both the 200 butterfly and 400 IM. A native of West Orange, N.J., Navata also competed at the U.S. Olympic trials, finishing 49th overall in the 400 IM and 78th in the 200 IM. Rodriquez, who won seven races last season, made the consolation finals in the 200 freestyle, 500 freestyle and 200 butterfly at the SEC Championships.

Moody also has high expectations for freshman Marwan El Kamash, who will play a key factor in the Gamecocks’ middle distance freestyle events. El Kamash is the Egyptian senior record holder in the 200 freestyle.

“We knew he was good, but I’m not sure that we were prepared for how good he actually is,” Moody said. “What he has done in practice so far has been phenomenal. He’s going to be one that puts some pressure on Michael for that top spot.”

On the boards, Miller looks to build on one of the best freshman campaigns in the conference. A SEC All-Freshman Team selection, Miller scored points at the SEC Championships, finishing sixth on the three-meter board and fifth on the platform. At the NCAA Zone Championships, he set the 12-dive school record on the platform with a score of 609.25.

Doors will open at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday at the Blatt P.E. Center/Carolina Natatorium, and admission is free. Men and women’s one-meter diving is slated to begin at 11 a.m. with the swimming portion of the meet to start at noon. Live results will be available by clicking here.