The early-season success of Fairmont State University swimmer Kathryn Saurborn comes as a surprise to no one.
After all Saurborn, a senior All-American from Fairmont, has done nothing but improve each and every year she's been in FSU's program. She's already qualified for the NCAA Division II National Championships in the spring in the 50 free with a school-record performance at the recent University of Pittsburgh Invitational which has her currently ranked first in the nation in that event.
However, what has turned the heads of many in the ranks of NCAA Division II swimming is the performance of Fairmont State University's men's team in the early going.
The Falcons are receiving votes in the latest College Swimming Coaches Association of America's Top 25 poll and are rated eighth in the most recently released CollegeSwimming.com power rankings after their strong showing in the University of Pittsburgh Invitational.
“Our guys have been a pleasant surprise in the early part of the season,” said veteran FSU coach Pat Snively. “I kind of knew we had a special group, but I wasn't sure exactly how we would perform in the pool this year. It's early and we haven't qualified for nationals in anything yet, but the way they've performed against some pretty high caliber competition indicates to me that they're ready, hungry and they want to get to nationals. I think they have what it takes to get there, but we have to see how the cards play out here in the next few months.”
Led by junior David Dent, sophomore Pasko Komadina, freshman Luka Dilas, senior Emir Atilgan and junior Ryan Radcliff, Fairmont has already established four new school records in the five men's relay events.
“I think we've definitely surprised some people,” said Dent. “I heard a lot of the Pitt coaches talking and saying, 'Fairmont has some pretty quick guys.' We all know what we're working for and as a result we're all working well together as a team.
We push each other in the pool and in the weight room and we're seeing the results of that now.”
“The biggest thing for me this year is I really bought into what we're doing in the weight room with (FSU strength coach) John Marano. I never lifted before I came to college and last summer I realized gaining strength would really help me in the pool. I lifted six days a week over the summer and that strength gain alone has really helped me a lot this year.”
Dent, who is from South Charleston, currently ranks first in the nation in the 100 freestyle with a time of 45.11 and second in the 50 free with a time of 20.54. He's also fifth in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:40.56.
“Seeing my individual rankings right now makes me want to work that much harder,” said Dent, who is majoring in exercise science. “Seeing my name on the top of the 100 kind of takes my breath away right now. I know, though, it doesn't really matter now. It matters at the end of the season, but I'm definitely motivated to keep improving.”
Given Dent's drive and determination in the pool Snively feels he will indeed be able to do that in the coming months before the NCAA Division II National Championships take place in Birmingham, Ala., in March.
“David's a kid who didn't have a whole lot of experience before he came to us,” said Snively. “He swam a couple of years in high school for South Charleston. He's talented and has a swimmer's body, but maybe more importantly he has the attitude you look for in a great swimmer.
“He has high expectations for himself. Early on they almost seemed like unrealistic expectations, but he's sort of backed up what he said he thinks he can do. He's the type of kid who looks up at the record board and says, 'You know, I think I can break the school record in the 100 free,' and then he goes out and does it. He's the guy who at the beginning of the year thought we could qualify some relays for nationals and he's held up his end of the bargain by having some really strong anchor legs in relays for us. I still think he has a lot of untapped potential.”
Komadina, who is from Croatia, is currently ranked third in the country in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:39.35 and fifth in the nation in the 500 freestyle with a time of 4:32.00. He's also ranked 17th in the 400 individual medley, 19th in both the 200 butterfly and 1,000 freestyle and 21st in the 100 freestyle.
“Pasko was a near miss for us in making it to nationals last year,” said Snively. “At one point he was the National Swimmer of the Week last year. He swam a little bit better at midseason than he did at the end of the year and as a result his time didn't hold up to earn a berth in the national meet.”
“This year he's done better. He's still sort of sitting on the bubble in the 200 freestyle, but he's really developed and done well in the 500 freestyle, the 100 freestyle, the 1,000 freestyle and some of his strokes – the 200 butterfly and the 400 IM. He's a very versatile swimmer.”
Dilas, another Croatian swimmer, is ranked 11th nationally in the 200 freestyle and 20th in the 100 freestyle.
“He's an addition this year which has certainly helped us in the freestyle events and our relays,” said Snively. “He's a solid performer for us in the relays. He really stepped up for us at the Pitt Invitational when we needed him in the 400 and 800 freestyle relays. If we can get those two a little quicker then I think we have a chance to qualify them for nationals.”
Atilgan, who is from Turkey, ranks 12th in the nation in the 500 freestyle and 14th in the 1,650 freestyle.
“Emir is a senior who has had a couple of near misses in qualifying for nationals,” said Snively. “He hasn't been there yet, but this might be his breakthrough season for doing that.
“And you definitely can't discount Ryan Radcliff, who swam one of Fairmont State's best 50 freestyles of all time coming off of a redshirt year in which he injured a shoulder and had to have shoulder surgery and sit for a long time. He's really progressed nicely since coming back and I think he has the potential to swim a great 50 freestyle and maybe help us qualify a 200 freestyle relay for nationals. He may also have an outside shot at making it individually in that event.”
Fairmont State's men, who are 2-0 in dual meets this season, will be idle until Jan. 18 when they host Wheeling Jesuit University in a 5 p.m. dual meet at the Feaster Center Pool.