Graduation depletes Kansas’ talent pool

Standout Gruber among key losses, but coach Campbell eager for 'challenge'

Gina Gnatzig is among the top returnees to KU's swimming team.

The question has been asked many times before in college athletics: How do you replace a dynamite senior class with unproved talent?

Kansas University swim coach Clark Campbell faces that difficult task.

The Jayhawks finished fourth in the Big 12 Conference championships last winter, just seven points shy of Nebraska in third place.

“We’re losing 100 points from our Big 12 scoring team next year,” Campbell said. “With the people that are returning and our new folks … it’s going to be a challenge to get that level.”

The Jayhawks reached that level largely by riding the fluid and powerful arms of senior Amy Gruber, who graduated in May with school records in the 200, 400 and 800-meter freestyle events, as well as in the 200 and 400-meter medley teams.

The 2008 Olympic hopeful from Bigelow, Ark., clearly will be the most difficult swimmer to replace.

Gruber’s departure as well as the graduation of such standouts as Aly Colver and Jackie Krueger has changed KU’s strength from sprinting to middle distance and distance.

Heading the returnees are Gina Gnatzig, Terri Schramka, Lia Pogioli and Lindsay Heere.

“Really, I think it strengthens us,” Heere said. “I know that we lost Amy, but I know we have the talent on the team that we can make up for what we lost.”

Incoming freshman Molly Brammer, a Blue Springs (Mo.) High graduate, and Kendall Maytous from Blue Valley North also should see plenty of pool time in the middle distance and distance events.

Brammer won the Missouri 200 and 500-meter freestyle events all four years in high school. Campbell calls her “definitely one of the most decorated recruits we’ve ever had.”

Although it may be impossible to fill Gruber’s shoes in the sprint events, Campbell has high hopes for Ashley Leidigh, a Shawnee Mission North product who posted one of the five fastest prep times in the 100 butterfly last winter.

“It’s going to take a little while for Ashley to refine everything at the collegiate level, but she definitely has a tremendous upside to help us right out of the gate,” Campbell said.

Sophomore Anne Liggett and senior Lindsey Urbatchka also will be counted on in the sprints.

Another key loss is breaststroker Miranda Isaac, second-highest scorer on the team after Gruber. Campbell hopes to replace Isaac with freshman Danielle Hermann from Itasca, Ill., and Rhynn Malloy from Holden, Mass.

Junior Shelby Noonan, senior Casey Topol and red-shirt sophomore Jenny Roberts are the top diving returnees. Campbell also will have a freshman diver in Hannah McMacken from Sumner, Wash.

Similar to the strategy of years past, the Jayhawks will face the Goliaths of college swimming early. The opener will be against Minnesota, a Top 25 team.

“We kind of get thrown to the wolves right away, but that is by design,” Campbell said.

Although the season doesn’t officially start until October, Campbell had his main objective in mind soon after last season concluded.

“My goal this year is to undercoach and overteach,” he said. “I think that we are really going to have to be in a learning mode of how we go about maximizing our potential at this level.”

In other words, it’s a rebuilding year.

“We can’t be satisfied with who we are presently, but we have to motivate ourselves with what we can be later and just keep that in the back of our minds as we’re preparing,” he said.