Tamaqua came within one win of sweeping the Schuylkill League boys and girls swimming titles last season.
Both teams were 12-2 overall, but the Blue Raider boys were a perfect 8-0 in capturing their second league championship in three seasons. The Lady Raiders finished 7-1 in the league, with their lone loss to champion Pottsville.
The Raider boys lost a solid quartet of swimmers from a year ago, as did the girls, but both squads have aspirations to contend for Schuylkill crowns this year.
On the boys side, Tamaqua will build around eight returning letterwinners while attempting to replace Ben Tuckett, Billy Breiner, Ricky Clemson and Corey McCann.
Leading the Raider returnees is senior Dane DeWire, the two-time defending Schuylkill League diving champion, who will also help out in the pool with the butterfly.
Other lettermen include seniors Calvin Troxell (breaststroke, butterfly), Sam Tuckett (freestyle, butterfly), Nate Leibensperger (Individual medley, breaststroke); Devin Smith (freestyle) and Evan Stoll (butterfly, freestyle); junior Zachary Yachera (freestyle, IM); and sophomore Tyler Butkus (freestyle). Leibensperger is the league's defending 50 yard breaststroke champ.
Seniors Daniel Starry (IM, backstroke) and Tho Duc Le (breaststroke) add depth to the line-up.
The Raiders also have five freshman on the squad, and their development could be a factor in how the team progresses throughout the season. The frosh include Jacob Beers (breaststroke, butterfly), Jacob Kropp (freestyle), Jordan Frank (IM, breaststroke), Matthew Stanek (freestyle, backstroke) and Zachary Oliveria (backstroke, freestyle).
Tamaqua Coach Eric Lech, who is entering his 11th season in charge, sees perennial Schuylkill power Pottsville as the team to beat, but feels the Raiders can make a run at the Crimson Tide.
"Pottsville returns a tremendous nucleus, which makes it the favorite," said Lech, who has a 96-44 record with the Tamaqua boys. "Although we have lost several key swimmers to graduation, a deep roster and some new talent will help as we try and defend our crown. For us, consisent improvement is always a key goal."
The Lady Tams will be without Katie Hummel, also a two-time Schuylkill diving champ, as well as Megan Amey, Sam Digilio and Chey Bates, but there are 11 letterwinners returning to the squad.
The returnees include seniors Schuyler Schmidt (IM, freestyle), Jordan Nowacki (freestyle, backstroke), Alaina Reese (diving), Aleida Van Buren (butterfly, backstroke), Chloe Hartung (breaststroke) and Deana DeWire (IM, butterfly); juniors Andrea Whitley (freestyle), Ashley Van Buren (diving, backstroke) and Megan Wagner (backstroke, freestyle); and sophomores Caroline Kanaskie (freestyle, backstroke) and Emily Bumbulsky (breaststroke, butterfly).
Junior Brittany Fick adds depth in the backstroke and freestyle.
The team has also been bolstered by six freshmen: Brianna Nordwick (freestyle), Joann Butkus (freestyle, butterfly), Makayla Boyle (backstroke, freestyle), Carly Trovinger (breaststroke, IM), Miranda Amey (IM, freestyle) and Nichelle Puckalavage (breaststroke, freestyle).
Lech, whose record with the Raider girls is 87-57-1, feels the Tamaqua mermaids will be in the mix for the league title.
"Pottsville and Blue Mountain will continue to be strong and forces to be reckoned with this year," related Lech. "With the addition of some very talented freshmen, our girls hope to present a challenge to earn our first league title since 1999.
"Working together as a team and embracing existing talents will help the girls improve this year," he added.
For Tamaqua, a red letter date on the schedule will be on Jan. 6, when the Raiders visit Pottsville for a showdown with potential to shape the Schuylkill race.
Lech will be assisted by Ellen Troxell and Ashley Stanek this season.