Pac-10’s best assemble in Long Beach

Championship season is finally here and the No. 9 USC women’s swimming and diving team is fired up and ready to go.

The Women of Troy ended their dual meet season on a high note last weekend at UCLA, where they crushed the Bruins 164.5 to 135.5.

“Everyone is really excited and ready to race,” senior co-captain Krissy Forelli said. “We think with some big swims we can be contending for Pac-10 champs.”

Wednesday marked the opening night of the 2010 Pac-10 Women’s Swimming Championship at the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool in Long Beach, Calif. The four-day competition will present many challenges for the Women of Troy (11-2, 4-2), who will be facing powerful Pac-10 rivals such as No. 2 Arizona, No. 4 Stanford and No. 5 California.

“I think we will battle to move into the top three, but we are going to need outstanding relay performances,” USC coach Dave Salo said.

The USC medley relay team has usually been the Women of Troy’s secret weapon when it came to starting off any dual or championship meet. It was previously made up of graduating seniors Kristen Lahey, Rebecca Soni, Katy Houston and Rachael Waller. But now with an entirely new and young relay team, the conference is waiting to see if these USC swimmers can deliver.

“Currently, we are ranked fourth in each of the five relays being contested,” Salo said. “We are going to need to break into the top three in a couple of the relays to move up.”

The team will be led into the Pac-10 championships by All-American juniors Lyndsay DePaul and Presley Bard, as well as All-American sophomore Katinka Hosszu. The team’s general depth, however, is something that Salo believes will give them the edge.

“We have a strong squad that will not be reliant on just one particular individual,” Salo said.

Competing with seven more athletes than on last year’s Pac-10 team, the Women of Troy are expecting great things from themselves and each other.

“We are ready to take down whoever gets in our way,” senior co-captain Dina Hegazy said. “We’re here to win.”

This year’s incoming freshmen have added substantial strength to the program, including Haley Anderson, who has rarely lost a distance event for the Trojans this season, and sprinting star Christel Simms, who is looking to make a memorable Pac-10 debut.

“We’re definitely getting stronger as a program and everyone will see that this week,” Forelli said.

The butterfly events will be a key event for the Women of Troy, who sport four of the nation’s top athletes in both the 100-yard and 200-yard fly. One is Hosszu, who ranks third in the event. She competed for Hungary in the Fédération Internationale de Natation World Championships in the summer of 2009 and was Hungary’s Female Swimmer of the Year. Hosszu is followed closely by sophomore Tanya Krisman, who is ranked sixth.

Freshman Yumi So has proved herself time and time again in the butterfly events this season and will be looking to improve upon her two NCAA consideration times in both the 100-yard (53.71) and 200-yard (1:58.88).

Meanwhile, up at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatics Center in Federal Way, Wash., USC’s divers will compete in the diving portion of the Pac-10 championships.

Sophomore Victoria Ishimatsu will be looking to continue her winning streak after taking home gold in the 3-meter at last year’s Pac-10 championships.

Another key player will be 2008 Olympian freshman Ariel Rittenhouse, who will be challenging Ishimatsu for this year’s Pac-10 title. Sophomore Michela Fossati-Bellani will be attempting to qualify for her first Pac-10 final after a strong season.

“We are also going to be helped by an outstanding group of divers,” Salo said. “Rittenhouse and Ishimatsu will provide us strong performances that could move us into the top three at Pac-10 overall.”

The competition runs until Saturday in both the swimming and diving events.