October 14, 2016
Virginia Tech swimming and diving sets high expectations for 2016-17
H2Okies open home slate against Penn State on Saturday at 11 a.m.

BLACKSBURG -- For most swimming and diving programs, a top-25 finish on either the men’s or women’s side at the NCAA Championships would classify as a solid season.

But what if both teams finished in the top 25? Well, that constitutes an outstanding campaign.

The Virginia Tech men’s and women’s swimming diving program were one of those teams last season, as both squads finished in the top 25 at the NCAAs, marking the fourth time in program history and the fourth time in the past five seasons. Both registered an awesome achievement, but placing high at NCAA and ACC Championships is a place where head coach Ned Skinner and head diving coach Ron Piemonte expect the Hokies to finish year in and year out.

The 2016-17 campaign is no different, as both sides expect a lot out of themselves.

“We always want to be in the upper echelon of the conference and build our season,” said Skinner, who enters his 18th season leading the swimming and diving program. “We go all in for the ACC Championships, where our men won in 2014 and the women have been runner-up. We always strive to be one of the top three teams vying for an ACC title. On an NCAA level, we have returning All-Americans and a lot of swimmers and divers who have a lot of experience. A top-15 finish at NCAAs and finishing in the top three in the ACC are the teams’ goals.”


Eleven years into his tenure leading the Hokie divers, Piemonte, a two-time ACC Diving Coach of Year, knows the heights that can be reached by his athletes. His men’s diving program ranks as one of the top-scoring programs in the ACC since the Hokies joined the league, while the traditionally strong women’s divers gained valuable experience and go into this season with big aspirations.

Another year older is sophomore Ashlynn Peters, who comes off a strong freshman campaign in which she placed in the top 25 in all three diving events at the ACC Championships. Redshirt junior Ashley Buchter returns after taking a redshirt season and a sophomore campaign in 2014-15 that saw her earn 62 individual points at 2015 ACC Championships. Peters’ potential progression and the return of Buchter’s tough demeanor excite Piemonte.

“I feel like Ashlynn Peters had a fantastic summer, and I think that she learned a lot as a freshman last year. She’s very prepared for her sophomore campaign,” Piemonte said. “Ashley’s recovered and working hard. It’s going to be nice to get her back on the boards because she’s very competitive. She’s a multi-time ACC finalist and two time NCAA qualifier, so I’m looking forward to having Ashley competing for us again.”

The lone freshman diver on either the men’s or women’s side is Miranda Eberle, a Saline, Michigan native whom Piemonte praised for her athleticism at such a young age after qualifying for junior and senior nationals in the 3-meter event. Junior Savannah Padgett and senior Leah Piemonte round out the women divers and serve as the squad’s veteran leaders. This season marks the final one for the coach’s daughter, and he’s excited for the upcoming season after she scored at the ACC Championships and qualified for the NCAAs as a junior.

“It’s going to be nice to see her finish out her career, and it’s been a great one,” Piemonte said. “I’m very proud of her, and I’m excited to see how her senior year goes.”

The Tech men’s team consists of divers who once again are expected to be one of the top scoring teams in the conference. The Castro-Silva brothers, Eduardo and Mauro, return after both performed exceptionally well at the ACC Championships, and sophomore Ben Schiesl returns after posting top-10 dives at the conference championship.

Piemonte noted that, in practice, any diver could beat the other on any given day. His athletes feed off of the competition with one another, and they pride themselves on being one of top men’s diving units in the ACC. They refuse to boast, though, because they expect it from themselves every season.

“I think we’ve got some really strong divers on all three levels, and I think they showed it last year,” Piemonte said. “There are no freshmen, so they’re all returners, and they were all successful last season. I think our men’s team is a really solid group of guys who are capable of being the highest-scoring team in the ACC on the diving end.”

The program is also excited about once again being the hosts for the NCAA Zone A Diving Championships at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center from March 6-8. Historically, the Hokie divers have performed well at their home pool, where they feel comfortable with the lighting and equipment.

“It’s great to be hosting the Zone A Championships in your own pool,” Piemonte said. “It’s better for the athletes from a visualization standpoint because you’re there every day and it’s one of the most important meets of the year when qualifying for NCAA Championships.

“I’ve been very fortunate with the group of athletes I have, and I’m looking forward to this season. There are always going to be ups and downs, but we’re going in with kids who know what to expect and what they’re capable of, and that knowledge goes a long way.”


The Hokie swimmers consist of a solid foundation of All-Americans, school record holders and 24 talented newcomers, many of whom expect to contribute right away. Skinner couldn’t have picked a better time to bring in such a large haul of freshmen, though, as he feels that the strength of his group entering the 2016-17 season centers on its leadership.

“Both teams feature as strong of leadership as maybe in my time here at Virginia Tech,” Skinner said. “These are the most accomplished swimmers, students, people and Hokies that I’ve ever encountered. They lead by example, they care in the locker room, and they look out for each other. That, as the starting point, helps me rest easy knowing that we’ve got the right foundation.”

That foundation features seniors Brandon Fiala and Robert Owen on the men’s side, and junior Klaudia Nazieblo on the women’s side.

Fiala was named the Most Valuable Swimmer at last year’s ACC Championships, where he earned two gold medals and set two meet records, including a time of 1:52.87 in the 200 breaststroke. He went on to earn All-America honors in the 200 breast, 100 breast and 200 individual medley, concluding one of the top seasons by a men’s swimmer in the history of the program.

Before being the first Hokie to be named to the USA Swimming National Team last month, Owen registered honorable mention All-America performances in the 200 backstroke and 400 individual medley. He finished sixth overall in the 400 IM at the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials with a time of 1:57.48. Nazieblo earned All-America honors in the 200 butterfly and broke school records in the 200 backstroke and 400 IM last season. She is arguably one of the most versatile swimmers on the Hokies’ roster.

The trio will help usher in a new era for the program. When commenting on the newcomers, Skinner expects bumps in the road, but they possess the chance to become successful if they take care of the minute details.

“The learning curve is undeniable,” Skinner said. “Every area requires attention, from eating habits, to sleep, to practice.”

One of the women’s swimmers facing a learning curve is Eleanor Matheson, though hers figures to be a tad easier. She recorded two trials cuts at the Olympic Trials. She arrived on campus in the second of half of summer, and she put herself in a position to become an immediate factor. Skinner also praised Grace Kowal and Centreville, Virginia native Chloe Hicks as two with the talent and tools to find success immediately at Tech.

They join Jess Hespeler and Adriana Grabski, two Olympic Trials participants this past summer and two veterans who expect to lead the Hokies in the freestyle events.

“Jess is world class in anything freestyle,” Skinner said. “With that, she has brought up Grabski, who has started to emerge and will become a force to be reckoned with in the ACC and at the NCAAs.”

As with the men, Skinner remains confident with his swimmers in the individual medley events on the women’s side. Nazieblo and Fiona Donnelly, the school record holder in the 200 and 400 IM, lead the contingent, and he expects Matheson to be a factor in these events as well. He hopes Kelly Henry take over as a leader and performer on the rise in the breaststroke discipline, where the Hokies lack depth.

Fiala leads the way in the breaststroke events on the men’s side, and freshmen Luke Jones and Simon Shi, a Leesburg, Virginia product, look like they possess the ability to help the Hokies. Skinner expects the Hokies’ success in the butterfly to continue, as sophomore Norbert Szabo, an Olympian for Hungary this past summer, sophomore Brent Benedict and newcomer Hassler Carroll add talent and depth. Skinner is also confident in sophomore Ian Ho and senior Caroline Buscaglia, the program’s top sprinters on the men’s and women’s sides, respectively.

In addition to setting goals in the pool for this upcoming season, the men’s and women’s teams have set academic goals for the year. The Hokies’ team GPA consistently ranks at the top among the other programs in the athletics department and their goals reflect the ideals of their head coach.

“To me, the academic component feeds into the athletics component,” Skinner said. “If you’re good in school, you’re going to be good in swimming. That’s how I see it.”

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