Freshmen Power Denison to First Title, Emory Gets #4



Freshmen Power Denison to First Title, Emory Gets #4 It was arguably the most exciting NCAA Championship meet in history.  While a case could be made for last year’s women’s Division I meet or Stanford’s win in 2001, none carried the historic implications of Denison’s 500.5 – 499.5 win over Kenyon College.  It snapped the longest winning streak in the history of NCAA competition in any sport at any level and it was sparked by a pair of freshmen who bookended an outsanding night of swimming.  The Big Red wrestled their way back from a 42 point deficit  after the first day.  By the time the 400 Free Relay took the blocks, they had a nine-point lead and merely needed to finish within two spots of Kenyon to take the title.  As easy as that sounds, it took an incredible final 25 by Denison freshman Spencer Fronk to pull Denison ahead of Emory for third place and the one point win.  The Eagles finished third with 348.5 points while Williams and MIT tied for fourth at 224 points.

Nearly lost amid the excitement and history was Emory University’s women building a streak of their own with their fourth-consecutive NCAA team title.  The Eagles were overwhelming in terms of quality and depth as they racked up 614 points to Denison’s 428.  Williams finished third with 382 points followed by Kenyon with 351.

 

In what turned out to be one of two especially pivotal races of the night, Denison freshman Allan Weik shattered Elliot Rushton’s NCAA record in the 1650 freestyle.  Weik led a 1-2-3 freshman finish with a record 15:06.47.  While Weik got the record, Kenyon got the valuable team points.  Kenyon’s Andrew Chevalier placed second with his morning swim of 15:31.83.  That was just enough to finish ahead of Keene State frosh Drew Ledwith.  Last year's champion, Andrew Lichtenfels was never a factor, and was overtaken by Emory’s Paul Weinstein for fourth.   While the swims cut the Kenyon lead to 28, the Lords actually improved over their seeds at a greater rate than Denison.

 

In the women’s mile, Caroline Wilson of Williams successfully defended her title over 2009 champion Liz Horvat from Emory.  The sophomore was six seconds off of her freshman time with a 16:31.46, well ahead of Horvat’s 16:44.39.  Teammate Erin Altenberger also finished under the 17-minute mark, far short of the six who did last year. 

 

In the women’s 100 freestyle, Kendra Stern winning her third event of the night.  The Amherst senior gutted her way through the sprint,  winning in 49.50, well off of her record set last year.  Carthage’s Amanda Croix needed just a couple of more yards to run Stern down and became a part of an elite group to actually outsplit the Amherst senior in the final fifty.  Croix finished second in 49.62 followed by Stevens senior Laura Barito in 50.17.

 

The men’s 100 freestyle proved to be the other pivotal event of the night with both Kenyon and Denison bringing several swimmers to the table.  The Lords won the morning, however when they placed three swimmers into the top eight.  At night, Craig Flemming of Kalamazoo won in 44.06, just off of his 43.90 from the morning session. Kenyon picked up the next two spots with David Somers and Ian Stewart-Bates finishing in 44.38 and 44.42.  Denison’s Michael Barczak had a quick start to trade places with Kenyon’s Colin Ohning.  When the dust settled, the Lord Lead was back to 28.

 

The women’s 200 backstroke featured a rematch of last year’s top-two finishers Emory’s Anne Culpepper and Denison’s Emily Schroeder.  It was again Culpepper over Schroeder 1:58.62-1:59.19.  The Eagles added points with third and fourth-place finishes from Sadie Nenning and Whitley Taylor. 

 

As good as the women’s backstroke was, the everyone in the Allan Jones Aquatic Center was turning their attention to the men’s edition where Denison, with three finalists held out hope of taking the lead away from Kenyon.  The Big Red got a 1-2 finish from Quinn Bartlett and Robert Barry.  Bartlett was a ½ second off of his record set earlier in the morning.  Barry swam back from fourth place at the mid-point to get his hand to the wall just ahead of Conn College’s Timothy Walsh.  Dension’s Sean Chabot dropped a couple of spots from preliminaries and that drop, combined with big swims from Michael Mpitsos and Jonathan Rooker kept the Lords in the lead by four.

 

Emory got its second win of the night when April Whitley swam away from the field en route to a 2:14.62.  Whitley finished third a year ago just behind teammate Kathryn Mroz.  Tonight it was Mroz who was third.  Westminster’s Courtney Herdt went past the Eagle senior to finish third.  Both were well under their times from a year ago, finishing in 2:17.15 and 2:17.43 respectively.

 

Until today only two swimmers had been under 1:59 in NCAA Division III history.  This morning that number moved to three and tonight Rory Buck became the first man under 1:58 in the event.  Buck crushed his morning record with a 1:57.79, over a second under Josh Boss’ previous mark of 1:58.90.  Staten Island’s Pavel Buyanov closed out his impressive career with a second-place 2:00.31, far better than a year ago when he won the consolation heat in 2:01.51.  Vincent Pai also had an impressive swim, finishing third in 2:00.67.

 

The 200 breaststroke was also important from a team-race standpoint.  Denison’s James Lewing won the consolation heat in 2:01.46 while Kenyon’s hopes took a hit when Lars Matkin was disqualified.  The Lords gained points, however when Andrew Butler and 2010 champion Ian Bakk tied for sixth.  Their swims helped push the Kenyon lead back to twenty with just two events to go.

 

Attention then turned towards the diving pool in a manner not seen at the Division III meet.  The crowd shifted to the West end of the pool.  Teams surrounded the well, and those who couldn’t find space turned their attention towards the scoreboard.  USMMA’s Nick Halbach won the 3 meter board, but his breaking of Jeff Gorton’s record was secondary in the minds of most.  With a pair of divers in the big final Denison was guaranteed to head into the final relay with – at worst – a three point lead.  The Big Red did far from at worst however and with each succeeding round the cheers for Gabe Dixson and Cody Smith grew louder and louder.  The pair gave Denison a nine point cushion finished fourth and fifth and thus set up a big relay.

 

Before the boys took the blocks, however, there was the matter of the women’s 400 Freestyle Relay where Emory and Denison put on a show.  Alyssa Swanson gave the Big Red the early lead before giving way to Marit Wangstad.  Emory assumed control at the 300 mark when Anne Culpepper split a 50.83.  Claire Pavlak brought the title home with an anchor split  of 49.93 for the win in 3:22.39.  Denison finished second in 3:23.43, just ahead of Stevens which needed a 48.89 split from Laura Barito to move from sixth to third in the final leg.

 

And thus the stage was set for the most dramatic finish in NCAA Division III Swimming History.  With a nine-point lead Denison could afford a Kenyon victory provided they finished no lower than third.   Prior to the relay, Kenyon’s Jim Steen implored his team to not hold back, and hold back they didn’t.  The Lords separated themselves from the pack within the first lap en route to a 2:56.63 for the win.

With five relays under 3:01 in the morning, second or third was by no means guaranteed for Denison.  Emory quickly moved into a tight race for second with Ross Spock’s 44.13 split, but by the time the anchor legs hit the water just over a second separated second from seventh.  Just as Denison was fighting for third or better, MIT, which needed a pair of swim-offs in the morning, also needed to finish at least four places higher than Williams to engineer a tie for the final trophy.

MIT did everything they needed to do, finishing second in 2:59.65, but as the teams hit the final lap Denison found itself in fourth place – poised for the cruelest of runner-up finishes.  That is when Denison’s Spencer Fronk did the unthinkable.  The freshman, who had failed to make the big final in the morning dialed up another gear and overtook Emory’s Justin Loomis to get his hand to the wall in 2:59.72.  That was good enough for third and good enough for the win.


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