By George Villareal
The 2010 NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving National Championships will return to the fast pool at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center on March 17-20. The 2009 Championships was a historic meet by many accounts. The meet marked the first time in D-III history that the women’s and men’s championships were held concurrently. This change brought a new atmosphere, similar in many respects to conference championships, since teams were not split for meets on consecutive weekends. The larger meet also included, for the first time ever, the four-day format, to account for double the roster of invited swimmers. Visit our Division III Championship Page and interact with George Villareal and guests during the meet
Of course, the 2009 nationals can also be remembered as the culmination of the “year of the suit.” An astounding number of records came crashing, and the concern was about how much of the performance increase was in fact attributable to the suits. Long-standing records were shattered (including the storied men’s 100 yard freestyle record, formerly held by James Born of Kenyon College since 1986 and broken by Caleb Courage of Grove City College) and times from the 2008 8th place prelims swim placed as high as 20th in 2009. Selected times for the meet were faster than in any year prior.
While the tech suits are gone for 2010, this year’s national meet promises to offer fast swims and compelling storylines. Clearly, a look at the roster of swimmers who attained “B” or “A” standards revealed that there was no shortage of fast swimming, during in-season meets, December Classics, and conference championships. Cut lines in almost every race were comparable to those of plastic-suited 2009 lines, while in many events, 30 or more relay teams exceeded the “B’ standards. Great coaching and great swimming all season long are to credit for the increased depth and strength throughout the nation, and this trend promises to continue in Minnesota.
Top storylines in D-III swimming involve the continued prominence of the women’s and men’s teams from Kenyon College. The Ladies and Lords have consistently dominated nationals for the last three decades. It’s well-known in the swimming community that the Kenyon teams, led by Coach Jim Steen, have set the unequaled standard for championships success in the history of college sports. The Ladies will seek to defend their 2009 title, one of 23 in the previous 26 years, while the Lords will seek their 31st consecutive national title. Perhaps the greatest testament to the success of the program is that while the teams have a combined 53 national titles between them (currently 4th among all NCAA programs in all sports, behind only UCLA, Stanford and Southern Cal), and both teams have very strong legacies, the swimmers and coaching staff do not take past success for granted. Each year presents new challenges, and the swimmers all seek to perform at their own top levels. This drive to succeed on a personal level, according to Kenyon coaches, swimmers and alumni, is a far bigger factor in continued success of the Ladies and Lords programs. Additionally, the stands are filled with Kenyon supporters, among those alumni from past championship teams, and this no doubt provides an additional edge for the Ladies and Lords.
The Kenyon Ladies will seek to defend their 2009 title, but face a tough field. Challenging will be Emory (the 2005 and 2006 champions), with a full championships roster of 18, including 2009 NCAA Swimmer of the Year Liz Horvat; Denison (the 2001 team champions), winners of the 2010 NCAC Conference Championship; and Williams College, with 15 swimmers on the roster, including national record-holder Logan Todhunter.
On the men’s side, the Kenyon team remains the prohibitive favorite to win a 31st consecutive national championship. Only once in the last 20 years has any team come within 100 points of the Lords (UCSD in 1993, championships hosted by Emory), and in the last ten years, Kenyon has only once been led in the standings after the first day of competition (2005 in Holland, MI: only to come storming back to win by 140 points by the conclusion of the meet). Though Coach Steen reminds everyone not to take “the streak” for granted, the Lords, clad in their vintage purple team sweats, will once again hoist the champions’ trophy at the conclusion of events on Saturday. The true fight will be for places second through sixth, among strong teams like Denison, Kalamazoo, College of New Jersey, Amherst, Emory and emergent St Thomas (MN). WEDNESDAY
- 500 Freestyle: The returning champion and record-holder in the women’s 500 free is Emory’s Liz Horvat, seeded fourth in a time of 4:52.98 (likely non-tapered). The top three seeds include Denison’s Hillary Callen, Amherst’s Kendra Stern (also likely un-tapered), and Caroline Wilson from Williams College (ditto). Callen’s time represents a PR in comparison to her third place time from 2009, while Horvat will defend her national record time of 4:47.04. Expect a solidly-packed top eight and an exciting finish. On the men’s side, returning champion Alex Fraser from Amherst and 2010 top seed Alex Beyer from Washington University (with a time from a mid-season Classic) look to reprise the battle from 2010. Top-eight seed times include 2009 finalists Keegan Borland (KC), Fraser’s teammate Ryan Lichtenfels, and Denison’s Dan Thurston.
- 200 Individual Medley: MIT freshman Anna Kokensparger is the top seed, followed by
sophomores Emily Schroeder (Denison) and Caitlin Lehberger
(Westminster/PA). Returning top-eight finalists include Kenyon’s
Lauren Brady and Ellen Ramsey from Williams. Watch out for returning
national champion Tina Ertel from Kenyon, who may make a push at the
national record of 2:00.27, one of the few records remaining from the
pre-tech suit era. On the men’s side, Arizona State transfer Colin
Gladys (Redlands) comes in as the top seed, followed by Chris Bateman
(St. Olaf) and Jake Lewing (Denison). With the graduation of the
highly-versatile Nelson Westby of St. Olaf, the top eight looks to be
wide-open. One of the oldest records on the books, Gary Simon’s
(C-M-S) 1:46.97, survived the slick suits of 2009, but can it survive
an onslaught by another D-I transfer?
- 50 Freestyle: Carthage’s Amanda Croix, third in 2009, is the top
seed in 23.03, .07 faster than last season’s PR. The splash-and-dash
features a fast field, including returning runner-up Chelsea Hoff (UWL)
and fellow All-American Ruth Westby (Emory). The top 16 seed times are
separated by .89, a tiny margin in this race that relies on speed and
perfect execution. Look for a tightly-bunched top-16 field. In the
men’s race, the top 16 seeds are all within an even smaller margin, .69
(last year’s top 16 were separated by .69 after prelims), meaning that
the morning swims are going to be well worth watching. Swim fast early
or don’t make it back. Leading the qualifiers is the versatile senior,
Peter Mullee from St Thomas/MN. The 2009 champion, Zachary Turk from
Kenyon, won his prelims race from lane one and led the evening
finalist: his seed time was posted in early December, so look for a
significant drop from the defending champ. A duo of Hornets from
Kalamazoo, Craig Fleming and Brian Bazzell, will look to set the tone
for a team hungry to challenge for a top three overall finish.
- 200 Medley Relay: Denison’s relays swept to titles at the 2010
NCAC Conference Championships, and this veteran squad looks to defend
their 2009 national title. They face tough competition from
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Emory, who also figured in the top eight
from 2009. Also posting a challenge should be Stevens Tech: if Stevens
is near the top entering the freestyle leg, look for Laura Barito
(seeded third in the 50 free) to post a charge. Among top seeds in
that relay, Denison will turn to Olivia Zaleski as the top flier AND
backstroker, while Emory brings April Whitley, the top seed in the 100
breaststroke, and Ruth Wetsby as a top sprint freestyler. Kenyon can
never be counted out among the finalists, though they are seeded 10th.
For the men’s relays, Kenyon is seeded first, based on a December time,
while the Kalamazoo Hornets, led by swimmers all seeded in the top
seven in the 100 strokes or 50 free is seeded a strong second.
Defending 50 free champ Zachary Turk will anchor a loaded Kenyon
relay. However, if KZOO is leading after the fly, hold on your hats.
- 200 Freestyle Relay: Denison again leads the women’s seeds, and will seek to improve on last year’s second place showing. The Emory Eagles return three of four relay legs from last year’s national champions. Overall, the sprint relay should be one of the most exciting relays in history. The top eight seeds, plus Kenyon (10th) all feature women seeded in the top 16 in the flat 50, so look for a slugfest in prelims and finals. If Emory is leading or close at the third exchange, look for the Eagles to soar away with the title, as their two fastest legs on the relay are seeded in the top 6 of the 50, while the third leg is seeded 17th. In the men’s relay, Kenyon will look to defend their title, and have posted a seed time from their December Classic. Kalamazoo has two sprinters in the top eight seeds in the flat 50, so look for a KZOO relay with sting.
- 400 Individual Medley: Emory’s Liz Horvat will seek to defend her 2009 title and national record. Her 2009 time, 4:16.17, is seven seconds faster than the second seed. Returning from last year’s top eight are Michelle Pelka from Carthage and Lauren Brady from Kenyon. In the men’s race, Chris Bateman from St Olaf leads a field that includes defending champ and national record-holder Alex Beyer from Washington University (MO), and distance specialist Ryan Lichtenfels from Amherst. Look for a strong charge from ever-improving Christ Washnock from Washington & Lee, who is an “A” qualifier in the 200 backstrokes.
- 100 Butterfly: The 100 fly promises to be a shoot-out, as top seed Olivia Zaleski from Denison takes on second-seed Logan Todhunter from Williams. Todhunter is the returning national champion and record-holder, and posted a seed time from a dual meet in January. Look for a national record as Todhunter returns to MN rested and ready. Lillian Ciardelli from Emory, last year’s third place swimmer, will also figure into the picture. In the men’s race, Kenyon has three swimmers among the top eight seeds, including Michael Mpitsos (a finalist in both backstroke races last year), returning runner-up Nat Carruthers and 2009 finalist Blair Withington. Emory’s John Petroff is seeded second.
- 200 Freestyle Amanda Croix from Carthage enters as the top seed, in a time almost three seconds faster than her 10th place showing from last year. Seeded second is national record-holder Kendra Stern from Amherst. Three Denison swimmers, Alyssa Swanson, Hilary Callen and Marit Wangstad are all seeded in the top 8, a position they are accustomed to, since they swept the top three spots in the 200 at NCAC’s this year. The top eight men’s seeds are all within 1.02 of each other, and the top 16 are all bunched within less than two seconds. The prelim heats are going to be explosive. Alex Fraser, runner up in 2009, comes in as the fourth seed, while top seed Ian Stewart-Bates is seeded first with a time from Kenyon’s December classic.
- 400 Medley Relay In the long medleys, Denison is seeded first with a time just off last year’s winning efforts. Again led by Olivia Zaleski, the Big Red will field a relay with strong swimmers seeded among the top entrants in each of the 100 strokes. Emory’s strong legs will be in the last three legs, led by April Whitley, the top seed in the breaststroke, and Ruth Westby, an experienced relay swimmer who may be able to chase down the leaders. C-M-S has a well-rounded unit, with three swimmers seeded among the top 10 in the individual strokes, and is anchored by a top freestyler. Kalamazoo enters the meet as the top seed, a sterling 3:19.88 from the MIAC conference championships. K-College features swimmers in all four legs of the relay entered among the top seven in the individual stroke races. There is not a weak leg on that relay. Kenyon’s entry time is based on the December classic, so the Lords will bring a team that is razor sharp and ready to battle it out, as they always do. The men’s race will be perhaps one of the most eagerly anticipated relays of the meet, so it will be white-knuckle time all the way to the finish.
- 200 Butterfly: Logan Todhunter, the defending national champ and record-holder is entered as the top seed with a time from a January dual meet. She is joined in the top four seeds by teammate KC Ha and Bonnie Patchen (runner-up in 2009), while Kenyon’s Lauren Brady is seeded second with a December time. Expect big time drops from these four as the podium could be festooned in Kenyon and Williams purple. The top seed in the men’s race is John Dillon from Middlebury, who faces a challenge from Kenyon swimmers Joseph Pysnik and Doug Huguenard and Emory swimmers Tom DiMarco and John Petroff, all of whom posted seed times on the same day in December.
- 100 Backstroke: Denison’s Olivia Zaleski, the defending champ, is seeded in a time only .11 off her winning 2009 time. 2009 All-America Chelsea Hoff from LaCrosse is seeded second, but this year’s time is significantly faster than last year’s, showing she is ready for the challenge. The top three seeds in the men’s race include the versatile Peter Mullee, former national record-holder Paul Ellis, and Denison’s Robert Barry. Don’t count out the 2009 champ, national record-holder, and 2009 Swimmer-of-the-Year John Thomas of The Hopkins, who swam an un-tapered 49.79 at the Bluegrass Mountain Championships. He faced a D-I transfer and faced one of his few defeats in collegiate swimming, so he should have the competitive fires stokes.
- 100 Breaststroke: Two of the top three seeds in the women’s race are from perennial powerhouse Emory, with April Whitley first and Jen Aronoff seeded third. The only 2009 finalist among the top eight seeds is Annie Perizzola from Claremont. The top eight seeds are all within 1.72 of each other, so there’s a great race brewing. On the men’s side, returning champion and record holder Pavel Buyanov from Staten Island returns as the favorite. Buyanov punched his NCAA 2010 ticket with his swim at the US Short Course Nationals, a December meet. The top six seeds, led by F&M senior Tom Grabiak will look to force a challenge to two-time defending champ.
- 800 Freestyle Relay: Denison’s top-seeded 800 relay comprises the top-four scorers at the NCAC conference meet, and three of these swimmers are seeded in the top eight of the flat 200. Emory is seeded a close second, fielding top sprinters like Ruth Westby and the nation’s best distance swimmer Liz Horvat. Look for this to be an exciting finish to seven-plus minutes of back-and-forth lead changes: if Horvat is the anchor, watch for her to chase down the Big Red swimmers. Kenyon’s men are seeded at the top, with Amherst a close second. It’s always worth remembering Kenyon’s relays qualified in December, and they have the top distance program in the country. It’s also worth noting that the Lords are especially tuned to relay swims, and have been so during their entire 30-year title run. In the 2004 800 FR final, Kenyon’s relay, despite having only one top-8 finalist, was so strong that they would have beaten an All-Star team from the UAA, which that year boasted five swimmers in the top nine and the national 200 free champ.
- 1650 Freestyle: Liz Horvat, the defending champion and national record-holder, is the unsurprising top seed. It’s worth noting that her record is also faster than the NCAA men’s “B” cut throughout the 1990’s, and that she would have been Emory’s men’s varsity record holder in that event as recently as December of 1990. Watch this race from start to finish, and note that Horvat is the best distance swimmer in the history of D-III swimming. On the men’s side, Kenyon takes particular pride in defending this event. While they may win their 31st consecutive title, a streak just as important in the Purple realm is the mile. Kenyon swimmers have won the men’s mile every year since 1991. There are entrants in this race who were not yet born when this streak started, at Emory, in March, 1991. Challengers come and challengers go, but this year’s race could be the year. Ryan Lichtenfels of Amherst, the top seed this year, was last year’s runner-up. Lichtenfels has undoubtedly gained confidence in his racing, and will pose a serious challenge to defending champ Keegan Borland. The duo posted two of the fastest times in history in this event, behind only the legendary Elliot Rushton. The suspense in Rushton’s final mile was whether he was going to lap every other swimmer in the final (he passed all but one swimmer). The entire 2010 race will be a spectacle, as the Lords seek to maintain their mastery of the event, and a Lord Jeff seeks to replace Kenyon purple with Amherst purple at the top of the awards podium. Third seed Michael Schultz will definitely have the legs to make a run at the end: the Ohio Northern swimmer is a 2009 Boston Marathon finisher.
- 100 Freestyle: Amanda Croix of Carthage is seeded first in her third event, but this will be the intersecting race of three highly-talented freestylers. 200 record-holder Kendra Stern of Amherst will bring back-half speed to this race, while Emory’s Ruth Westby will showcase her early speed and tenacity. This race will just feed off the energy of the fan base who have just watched two great mile heats. In the men’s race, KZOO’s Craig Fleming leads all qualifiers, followed by sophomores Ben Wampler of Williams and Spencer Loch of LaCrosse. The top 16 seeds are all within .9, so the emphasis for everyone will be to get ahead, stay ahead and touch ahead, just to make it to the final.
- 200 Backstroke: The top seed is Emily Schroeder from Denison, a 2009 Finalist, with a time that is 2 seconds faster than her “suited” 6th place time from last year. Freshman Carley Mosher from Gustavus is seeded second, while 2009 finalist sophomore Anne Culpepper from Emory is seeded third in a time just off her best from 2009. The men’s race will match several returning finalists from 2009, including top-seed Peter Mullee from St Thomas and returning champ John Thomas from The Hopkins, as well as finalists Robert Barry of Denison and Michael Mpitsos of Kenyon. Thomas has not had a fully-rested swim this year, and faced tough competition in the BGMC meet from a D-I transfer and from Chris Washnock of W&L. Mullee and Thomas will go toe-to-toe again this year, with an exciting finish certain to be in the cards.
- 200 Breaststroke: One of the single greatest performances in D-III history is Lindsay Payne’s 2006 record in this event. Payne continued on to place 7th in the 2008 Olympic Trials in the 100. The 2010 race features Annie Perizzolo of C-M-S, the 2009 runner-up to this year’s fourth seed Alisa Vereschagin from Kenyon. Emory’s April Whitley qualified with her December time, so look for a very strong field in the big heat for this race. In the men’s race, Rory Buck from Whitworth is the top seed, in a time 1 second faster than last year’s swim. Myles O’Connor from TCNJ is seeded second, while Pavel Buyanov is fourth. Transfer Colin Gladys is a strong contender to take out the standard set by Hope’s Josh Boss in 2001.
- 400 Freestyle RelayThe final event of the meet is always the emotional climax to the meet. The end is in sight, and the season can be wrapped up. Each team trots out their stars, and the adrenaline is boiling in each competitor’s veins. Motivation from rivalries or to break records or to stand atop the podium is welling up. The relays in some cases have decided meet scores (as in 2001, when Denison needed only to score in the big final to win the women’s meet), so the tension is high. Twitchy exchanges by nervous swimmers can cause a collective breath-holding and change a meet forever. In short, this is THE pressure-cooker of the meet. The top seed in the women’s race is NCAC champion Denison, who dominated the conference championship and look to defend a national title. Emory’s relay is seeded second, stacked with top sprinters, and it could be this relay that seals the deal on another Emory championship banner. Kenyon will seek to get the last word in on conference rivals, this time on the big stage. Everyone watching will be so hyped and heart rates so high for this race that the only difference in swimmers in the race and spectators is that the swimmers will be drenched with pool water. This three-team race will feature some of the top names in the meet battling it out for the last 100 yards, and this race will be a thriller. In the men’s race, look for Kenyon to post another time under 3:00. The submitted time was from NCAC’s, but with swimmer’s whose greater focus was on this meet and this race. Middlebury and KZOO will look to knock off the defending champion Lords in this, the last race of the year.