Swimming and diving faces a longer season of training than any other sports team. Their season, spanning from August to March, is designed to help them prepare for their longstanding tradition of competing on the national level.
“It can be a very nerve-racking thing,” Hannah Lobb ’16 said. “You train all year until you get to February and March and that’s when it all matters.” After eight months of training, 57 men’s teams and 55 women’s teams gathered in Greensboro, N.C. from March 16 to 19 for four days of intense competition at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division-III national championship.
The Lords and Ladies entered the NCAA meet against schools whose qualified swimmers outnumbered Kenyon’s, but they were determined to leave their mark. The Lords faced stiff competition from Denison University, projected to win by approximately 100 points from group and individual scores. Similarly, among the 55 women’s teams at the meet, the Ladies competed against women’s swimming powerhouse Emory University, which had won the past six national championships, the past three by margins of 130 or more.
Though these odds may have seemed bleak to some, Kenyon set the tone for the meet from the first session. Marysol Arce ’19 took home Kenyon’s first individual national title of the meet with a time of 4:48.52 in the 500 freestyle. Lobb, Mariah Williamson ’16, Katie Kaestner ’16 and Julia Wilson ’18 had individual All-American performances in their respective events: the 50 freestyle, 500 freestyle and 200 individual medley. Lobb also contributed in the 200 medley relay, with teammates Abby Wilson ’18, Laura Duncan ’17 and Jenner McLeod ’17, who all took All-American titles and kept Emory’s lead to a low 18 points.
The Lords kept it close with Denison, propelled by All-American swims by Arthur Conover ’17, Ian Reardon ’17, Trevor Manz ’17, Ryan Funk ’16 and All-American 200 medley relay, swum by Manz, Funk, Percy Gates ’16 and Christian Josephson ’16. At the end of the first day, it was clear the Lords had outscored Denison in the pool, but the 48 points the Big Red amassed in the three-meter dive propelled them 13.5 points ahead of Kenyon.
“We knew going into the meet how the points were ‘supposed’ to play out (based on seed times),” Williamson wrote in an email to the Collegian. “We also knew that Emory has been a powerhouse for the last decade — we got closer to them than any team has for a while. It was exciting to be in a position where we could be competitive with them, but we were very focused on our own team and our own meet.”
The Lords and Ladies carried the momentum they built in the first day’s events into the second day, leading to more exciting performances from both. “We always try to be the most exciting team on the pool deck, and I think we accomplished that,” Julia Wilson said.
For the Lords, day two began and ended with strong relay performances, as the team took second in the 200 freestyle and first in the 400 medley. In between the relays, Reardon, Conover and Newell combined to dominate the 400 IM by taking second, third and fifth, respectively, earning them each, along with Josephson, for his seventh place finish in the 100 butterfly, another trip to the All-American platform.
These strong performances put the Lords on top, of Denison by 14.5 points, and the Ladies also outscored every other team in the pool. Arce and Williamson took second and fourth, respectively, in the 400 IM, while Abby Wilson and Hannah Orbach-Mandel ’19 took third and fifth in the 200 freestyle to further narrow the gap between them and Emory. To top the day off, the Ladies brought home another individual national title, with Maria Zarka ’16 claiming first in the one-meter diving finals, putting Kenyon a mere two points behind Emory. This was the closest any team has come to surpassing Emory in the past three years.
On day three, Kenyon watched blue skies fade to gray, as their narrow margin widened. The Ladies maintained focus and still came away with some great performances, though, including Williamson’s sixth-place finish in the 200 butterfly and Julia Wilson’s third-place finish in the 100-meter breaststroke.
At the end of the day the Ladies trailed Emory by 69 points. Yet they claimed a third place showing in the 800 freestyle relay swum entirely by first years: Orbach-Mandel, Abby Wilson, Delaney Ambrosen and Arce.
The Lords mirrored the Ladies with All-American performances by Jon Zimdars ’19 in the 200 butterfly, Manz in the 100 breaststroke, and by Matt Leenhouts ’18, Joey Duronio ’16, Conover and Alexander Seaver ’17 in the 800 freestyle relay. These events were not enough to make up for the Big Red’s diving advantage, and the Lords fell 32 points behind Denison.
Everything changed on the fourth day, which turned out to be a special one for the Lords and Ladies. Based on seed times and the number of people swimming in the day’s events, they knew, by now, that it would be nearly impossible for Kenyon to win. Despite this, the Lords and Ladies pulled off the most electrifying performance of the meet. Their resolve in the face of defeat may be due in part to the approach of head coach Jess Book ’01.
“Who we are, how we compose ourselves is something that is very unique to our sport,” Book said. “We can measure things beyond wins and losses.”
Reardon suggested the special energy of their final day may have had something to do with the support the close-knit team members gave each other.
“When you actually get on the blocks to race, it’s really effortless,” Reardon said. “You have the whole team swimming with you and, really, for you. Hearing everybody going crazy for you on the pool deck makes it easy.”
Whatever made this fourth day special, the Kenyon swimmers blew the projections out of the water with a third-place finish by Oscar Anderson in the 200-meter backstroke, and a first-place title snagged by Reardon with a 1:59.35 time in the 200-meter breaststroke. The Ladies added to the excitement with an individual national title by Lobb in the 100-meter freestyle (49.90), a third-place finish by Julia Wilson in the 200-meter breaststroke, a fifth place in the three-meter dive by Zarka and a third in the 400-meter freestyle relay by Orbach-Mandel, Abby Wilson, Lobb and McLeod.
“The odds might have been against us, and maybe the points didn’t work out in our favor, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be the most exciting team on the deck,” Manz said. “That’s what I’ll remember, looking back on this meet.”