Friday afternoon marks the beginning of the 2015-16 swimming season for the Florida Southern Moccasins as both the men and women will face their traditional opening day opponent, the University of Tampa. It's the first of seven regular season meets for the Moccasins this year as they begin their first season under new head coach Mike Blum.
The Florida Southern men's team has 10 returning lettermen and seven of them have won some type of All-American recognition at least once in their careers. Leading that group are the Moccasins' three seniors, Raul Garrastazu, Edson Lima, and Jesus Marin, who have combined for 24 All-American awards. Garrastazu is the Florida Southern record-holder in the 200-butterfly, Marin has the school record in the 200-freestyle, and Lima helped the Mocs set the school record in the 200-freestyle relay. Redshirt junior Alec Wathen is another of the returning All-Americans, as are true juniors Diego Gimenez and Marco Palacios, and sophomore Luis Jasso.
Garrastazu begins his final season with 19 individual wins in his career as one of the nation's top butterfly swimmers and is the 2-time defending Sunshine State Conference champion in the 200. He has two All-American and one honorable Mention All-American certificates so far in the 200-butterfly, and is also an accomplished distance swimmer, claiming honorable mention awards in both the 1,000-freestyle and 1,650-freestyle last year.
Lima gives Florida Southern another All-American butterfly swimmer, but in the 100-yard event where he's reached the national finals each of the last seasons. It's a role he also handles on the Moccasin medley relay teams, helping the 200 and 400 teams finish in the top-8 at nationals as a sophomore and junior. In addition to his relay work, Lima was a national qualifier in the 50-freestyle and 100-freestyle as a junior.
Marin has been a key component for all three freestyle relay teams (200, 400, and 800) after earning All-American honors in each of those races as a junior, and two of them as a sophomore. He also picked up seven wins in the 200-freestyle last year and finished sixth in that event at the Division II National Finals.
The four underclassman All-Americans all earned their first such awards last year, with Palacios collecting five of them. That was the most for any of this year's returning lettermen. Palacios ranks as one of the nation's best swimmers in the backstroke where he went 7-1 last year in the 100, and had four additional wins in the 200. That gave him a team-leading 11 individual wins last season, with two of them coming at the SSC Championships where he won both backstroke titles.
Gimenez is another All-American backstroke swimmer for the Moccasins after earning honorable mention status last year and finishing third at the SSC Championships. In addition to his backstroke ability, Gimenez was also a national qualifier in the 100-butterfly, the 50-freestyle and the 100-freestyle. Along with Lima, he's one of two returning Moccasins who hit NCAA qualifying times in both sprint freestyle events.
Wathen added his name to the All-American list in 2015 by helping the 800-freestyle relay team finish in fifth place at the National Finals. He's also been one of Florida Southern's lead swimmers in the individual medley, and set the school record in the 400-IM at last year's conference championships.
Jasso was a late addition to the roster last year, joining the team in January and establishing himself as their top swimmer in the breaststroke by season's end. He was the SSC runner-up in both the 100 and 200, was an honorable mention All-American in the 200, and helped each of the Moccasin medley relay teams earn All-American status as well.
Among the other returning swimmers for the Moccasins is junior Evan Coleman, who has hit NCAA provisional qualifying times in the 100-backstroke and 200-backstroke in previous seasons.
Florida Southern's list of 10 newcomers includes another NCAA Division II All-American in junior Antonio Nunez-Alvarez. A transfer from the University of Bridgeport, Nunez-Alvarez won eight All-American awards for the Purple Knights and helped them finish eighth at last year's Division II National Championships. He was the D-II national runner-up in the 200-butterfly as a freshman, and had honorable mention finishes in the 200-IM and 400-IM as a sophomore.
The freshman class includes Nico Campbell, a member of the Jamaican National Team who holds that country's national record in the 200-meter freestyle and serves as anchor for their 800-freestyle relay team that won gold medals at the 2014 and 2015 CARIFTA (Caribbean Free Trade Association) Championships. Taylor Eaddy helped American Heritage High School win two state championships in Florida as a butterfly and freestyle swimmer, and Matthew Holmes arrives as one of Florida's top high school swimmers in the 200-IM and 100-breaststroke.
After their seven regular season meets, Florida Southern will be looking for its fourth straight Sunshine State Conference Championship in February, before the Division II National Championships are held in Indianapolis, March 9-12. The Moccasins have finished in the top-five at nationals each of the last four years, including two runner-up finishes.