TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – When the Alabama swimming and diving teams opens the 2010-11 season Saturday morning at the Alabama Aquatic Center, it will be jumping right into the meat of its competitive season, facing off against Southeastern Conference rival Auburn starting at 11 a.m.
"We're ready to get going," UA head coach Eric McIlquham said. "Everyone is ready to stand up and race against someone other than their teammates. This is a good point to see where we are against some very good competition."
With a roster filled with newcomers, Saturday will be a new experience for a large portion of the Crimson Tide's lineup. For the men, 15 of its 32 roster spots, more than 45 percent, come from its rookies while the women have 10 freshmen among their 28 student-athletes.
"We're definitely on the young side this year," McIlquham said. "It's going to be good for the new kids to see what the SEC is all about and to get a taste, right off the bat, of the level of competition that we're going to see all season long."
While its lineup is filled with youngsters, there are several Tide veterans with NCAA Championship experience. For the men, seniors Denes Zubcsek and Catalin Cosma and junior Joe Ziegler have been to the big show while sophomore Anestis Arampatzis and senior Adam Booher were NCAA Championship alternates last year.
"We have over 30 guys, which is exciting from a competition standpoint," McIlquham said. "Within those numbers, we have some very talented athletes who have developed and worked themselves into elite level athletes, and others that are coming in at that level."
On the women's side, seniors Kate Shannon Gray and Ida Persson as well as junior Suzanne Schwee all return with school records on their resumes as well as the experience of competing at the NCAA Championships.
"Our women graduated 11 seniors last year, so we have a large freshman class that has to come in and make a difference right away," McIlquham said. "I really like the depth, the diversity, and the talent level of the freshmen. We have added a lot that will increase a lot of our strength from top to bottom."
Among the UA rookies looking to make an impact on the Tide's fortunes will be Hunter Hinson, who was named to USA Swimming's National Youth Team and Callan Buck, who made her international debut in September as a part of USA Diving's World Junior Championships team.
Saturday's meet marks the first time Alabama has opened against SEC competition since the 2005-06 season, when they started things off with the Tennessee Vols. It will also be the opening meet of the season for the Auburn Tigers. Admission to the meet is free and t-shirts will be given away during the competition.