Thanks to 16 first-place performances and 13 meet records, the Denison University men's and women's swimming and diving teams have ascended back to the top of the mountain in the North Coast Athletic Conference. The title was the second for the Big Red, who won their other conference championship in the 1996-'97 season. The other 23 titles, dating back to the NCAC's inception in 1984-'85, were won by Kenyon. The Big Red's win halted the Lords' title streak at 11.
Denison led the three-day championship wire-to-wire and defeated rival Kenyon College 1,794.5-1,419 to secure their second conference championship in school history and their first since 1997. While Denison may have had an 11-year drought between titles it's been a dogfight between the two neighboring schools since the league's inception in 1984-85. Since that last win in '97 DU has come within 88 points or less of defeating the Lords on six occasions. Tonight's 375.5 victory by Denison marked the largest margin of victory at the NCAC's since the Lords posted a 398 point win over the Big Red in 1994.
The Denison women's swimmers and divers surged into the lead midway through Thursday night's finals and never looked back. In their wake Denison posted victories in 15 of the 20 events and set new North Coast Athletic Conference records in 11. DU closed out Saturday strong by winning five of six events to knock off Kenyon by 131 points. The Big Red totaled 1,740.5 points while the Ladies checked in with 1,609.5.
This is the second NCAC Championship for the Big Red and their first since 2004. It also helps avenge last year's 15-point loss to Kenyon in what turned out to be the closest conference championship in history.
Junior Olivia Zaleski was named the NCAC Swimmer of the Year for the second consecutive season and teammate Kristen Hohl pumped her career number of conference titles up to nine after wins in tonight's 100 freestyle and 400 free relay.
"We have some star power and we have some more depth out there," noted head coach Gregg Parini. "Zaleski was a part of three national records this weekend, the diving played a huge role and to see Hilary Callen come back today and win the mile was just tremendous."
"They preformed at a very high level and set the bar very high for nationals Minnesota."
"It's been close here for a long time and to be successful you have to get out of that brides maid mentality," said head coach Gregg Parini. "We come here to win and we have taken our first step toward nationals in Minnesota."
Senior John Geissinger was named the Male Swimmer of the Year after racking up seven wins and obliterating the conference and school record in the 100 freestyle. Geissinger posted a record time of 43.99 in preliminaries and he bested that in the finals by touching in 43.96. That surpassed a 9 year-old record by former DU standout Aaron Cole.
Geissinger's meet shaped up like this: seven championships, seven new NCAC records, six new Denison records and seven "A" cut swims. That ran his career total of conference crowns to 11.
Following Geissinger throughout the meet have been veteran-like performances by first-year Robert Barry. He set a new meet record in the 200 backstroke with a time of 1:49.20. It broke Kenyon's Andrejs Duda's time of 1:49.87 set in 2005. Following Barry was Charlie Grodecki in third (1:51.98) and Andy Catlin in seventh (1:55.90).
In the men's 200 breaststroke junior John Nemeth placed second but set a new record in the process. Denison's old mark of 2:02.21 set by Albert Bedenbaugh-Cortes in 2006, fell by the wayside in the finals after Nemeth's "A" cut time of 2:02.50. The win and new NCAC record would go to Ohio Wesleyan's David Gatz who clocked in at 2:01.23. Following Nemeth in third was Andy Brabson at 2:07.29. Senior Chris Sellon took fifth place with a 2:09.19 showing.
"The newcomers really made an impact," stated Parini. "Nemeth's time drops have been impressive, Barczak's 45.59 in the 100 free was a great swim and Thurston and Bagley really showed up. You also can't say enough about the diving corps. Steve (Ritter) has done a great job."
Senior David Curtis locked up his ninth career NCAC win when he touched in 1:51.66 in the 200 butterfly. It marked his first career conference title in a butterfly event. Rookie Dan Thurston tied for second with Kenyon's Luke Sullivan at 1:53.44. Matt Wright and Casey Browning placed sixth and seventh, respectively.
The icing on the cake came in the men's 400 free relay when Chris Bagley, Mike Barczak, Curtis and Geissinger came together to break the record set by the Big Red at last year's championship. After all of the impressive swims Geissinger still had enough left in the tank to post a 43.45 anchor split that resulted in a time of 2:59.53.
In the men's 1-meter dive senior Russ Bornschein posted a career best score of 442.95 in his 11 dives to earn his first conference championship. Freshman Cody Smith, the NCAC champ in the 3-meter dive followed in second with 419.80 and Phil Meyer took fourth place. So far both Bornschein and Smith have reached their NCAA qualifying standard.
In the opening race of the night Kenyon College managed to gain a little ground, picking up 62 points in the 1650 free after taking four of the five top spots. Freshman Austin Vierra cracked the top-5 with a fourth place time of 15:57.28. Browning was sixth in 16:22.46.
In the post-meet awards Geissinger took home his first NCAC Swimmer of the Year plaque and Bornschein joined him with his first Diver of the Year award. Parini picked up his fourth Coach of the Year trophy.
After her seven conference titles and seven NCAC records Zaleski's career conference championship totals have risen to 12 with one year to go.
Hohl set a new conference record in the 100 freestyle in morning preliminaries with her time of 50.45. It broke Erin Stanley's Denison record of 51.20 that had stood since 2001. Hohl returned in the final with a time of 50.54 to pick up her fourth win of the meet.
Later both Zaleski and Hohl combined with Annamarie Novinger and Kate Rich to close out the meet with record-setting performance in the 400 free relay. Hohl anchored with a 49.96 split to clinch the record in 3:24.80. That topped a conference mark that had been held by Densison since 1999.
The night would be led-off by Callen who posted a "A" cut time of 17:00.66 in the 1650 freestyle. Sophomore Jenny Cunningham followed in 17:11.07 which was also an automatic qualifying performance for the Big Red.
Another rookie who landed her name in the record books was freshman Emily Schroeder. The lone DU representative in the 200 backstroke final turned in a clutch performance by following her record setting prelim time of 2:01.65 with a win in the final. Kenyon would occupy third, fourth and fifth place in the 200 back but the 46-point swing would not be enough when all the chips were counted.
Denison's final individual title was earned by Laurel Brabson in the 200 butterfly. She posted an automatic qualifying time of 2:05.56 and was followed in fifth and sixth place, respectively by Lauren Pipkin and Brenna Broadus.
The final result from Saturday saw Laruen Barone, Rochelle Akradi and Ksenia Golovkina placed fourth, sixth and eighth respectively in the 200 breaststroke.
Denison would make a clean sweep in the women's award ceremony with Parini taking home Swimming Coach of the Year honors for the seventh time and Zaleski picking up her second NCAC Swimmer of the Year plaque. In diving, Steve Ritter was named Coach of the Year and first-year Brett Balling was named Diver of the Year after wins in the one and three meter dives.
Denison will return to action next weekend in search of more NCAA qualifying performances at the Kenyon Invitational.
Yeo Swimmers Have Strong End to NCAC Championships
The third and final day of the NCAC Championships saw three more school records fall for the Oberlin College swimming and diving teams.
“It was a phenomenal meet for us and I was happy that we ended strong today,” head coach Mark Fino said. “Everyone gave great effort and left it all out in the pool these last three days.”
Sophomore Jenny Meltz bested her own school record in the 1,650-yard freestyle with a time of 17:56.68.
Junior Laura Fries followed suit with a new school-best mark and NCAA “B” cut time of 2:08.82 to finish sixth overall in the 200-yard back.
The foursome of Sara Kadi, Shannon Gallagher, Flora Samis and Bryne Ulmschneider nearly missed the school record in the 400 free relay (3:41.70) as they completed the course in 3:41.79.
On the men’s side senior Scott McInerney capped off his amazing meet with yet another school record – this one coming in the 100-yard free. During the morning session his lead-off time of 45.94 in the 400-yard free relay was good for a new OC record. Following McInerney in the 400 were Jon Vimr, Bud Stracker and Nick Lashway as they combined to nearly miss the school record (3:08.75) with a time of 3:09.38 to finish sixth.
Stracker continued his impressive meet with the second-fastest time in school history in the 200-yard breast by tapping in at 2:12.90.
Corey Spiro also turned in a strong swim in the 200-yard fly with the fourth-best all-time mark of 1:56.95 to place 11th.
As a team the Yeowomen placed sixth with 612 points, while the Yeomen ended in seventh with 476 points. Denison University claimed the championship on both the men’s and women’s end.
Oberlin swimmers who posted “B” cut times will now wait to hear their fate from the NCAA as it pertains to the NCAA Championships.