When the No. 11 Tennessee men’s swimming team heads to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to face off against the 23rd-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide at 1 p.m., it might as well be facing off against the rest of the world.
One look at the Tide’s roster reveals an assortment of Olympians and All-Americans, many of whom hail from abroad. Senior Spiros Bitsakis, from Athens, Greece, was a 2003 All-American and a two-time Olympian. South Africa native senior Darren Erasmus is a two-time All-American. Freshman Alin Mihalca, a Romania native, holds five of his country’s national records.
And certainly not the least significant, Kazakhstan-native redshirt senior Vlad Polyakov is a two-time All-American and the 2005 NCAA champion in the 200-yard breaststroke.
And the list goes on.
“It’s quite a who’s who of international geography,” Tennessee coach John Trembley said. He said Alabama’s international recruiting is “a part of who they are.”
Moreover, the Vols are heading into this match against international stars having come off some injuries and illnesses of their own.
“We had a lot of sickness, some injury, and we just had to step back a little bit from the intensive training we’ve been doing,” Trembley said.
One of those ill swimmers was sophomore All-American Octavio Alesi of Venezuela, but Alesi said he did not let his sickness bother him.
“I got sick during the weekend (of the South Carolina meet), but that didn’t stop me from weight training,” Alesi said. “You gotta do what you gotta do. (Trembley) asked on Friday if I wanted to sit out, and I said I would still be able to compete.”
The Vols have eased up on the training a bit this week because of the recent bouts of injury and illness, Trembley said.
“A lot of lost time to heal allows you some time to start feeling human,” he said.
The diving team also appears to have its hands full against Alabama, but the Tide’s star diver in question is an American — an All-American — a man who beat Tennessee’s Jevon Tarantino, who was NCAA 1-meter champion, last year on the 3-meter event at the NCAA meet.
“Their top diver, Aaron Ashworth, is very experienced and very talented,” diving coach Dave Parrington said. “Diving in his own pool will only make him tougher.”
The presence of the sixth-year senior from Columbia, Mo., is a threat but a worthy challenge, UT senior diver John Venditti said.
“If we can top him off on at least one or two events, we should do OK,” he said. “I don’t think any of our divers have been to their pool.”
Parrington said he expects a more focused performance out of freshman Burkley Showe, who has already qualified for the NCAA meet in both the 1-meter and 3-meter events.
The meet between Tennessee and Alabama is the Crimson Tide’s season opener. Tennessee holds a 16-9 series advantage against the Tide.