Down 11 points going into the third day, the men’s swimming and diving team rallied to win their 25th NCAC Championship, the team’s first since the 2019-20 season. Three student-athletes also earned individual honors: Last year’s NCAC and NCAA Diver of the Year Israel Zavaleta ’24 and reigning NCAC and NCAA Swimmer of the Year Bryan Fitzgerald ’23 repeated as Diver and Swimmer of the Year, respectively, while Djordje Dragojlovic ’26 won NCAC Newcomer of the Year.
On the first day, the Owls won two relays, earning 70 points each for Kenyon to sit atop the rankings on day one with 140 points. Denison University finished in second with 124 after being runner-up to Kenyon in both the 800-yard freestyle and 200-yard medley relays.
The highlight of day two came on the diving board. Zavaleta wasted no time getting back into championship form. In his first event of the meet, Zavaleta broke all the records on the books with a 610.20-point performance in the one-meter dive preliminary event. His performance builds upon Kenyon’s varsity record of 576.40, which he broke last year at the NCAA Division III Championship. He also shattered the NCAA D-III record of 578.70. Zavaleta also now holds the pool and NCAC record. “Hard work is paying off, and this is a great way of measuring success from a progress standpoint,” Zavaleta wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Getting a pool record at Denison was my objective at the beginning of the season, and doing it in front of the people I care the most about was unique and electric.”
The Owls also won two out of four swimming events on day two. Fitzgerald finished first in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:25.97. In the 200-yard freestyle relay, the Owls touched the wall two seconds before the rest of the competition. Despite the three event wins, Kenyon ended the day in second place with 651 points to Denison’s 691 points due to the Big Red’s ability to have swimmers finish in places on the podium or in near-podium finishes.
On day three, Kenyon continued to break records. Marko Krtinic ’24 finished in first in the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 47.11. The previous NCAC and pool record was 47.33 held by Cherantha De Silva ’23, who came third in the event. Later in the evening, Daniel Brooks ’24 broke the 100-meter backstroke NCAC and pool record of 47.87 seconds. He finished the race in 47.77 seconds. At the end of the night, the Owls broke the NCAC and Kenyon’s varsity record in the 400-yard individual medley relay. Brooks, Luis Weekes ’23, Krtinic and Dragojlovic finished the event in 3:12.71 seconds, breaking the old record by a second. Fitzgerald also notched a win in the 400-yard individual medley to contribute to Kenyon’s point total. Yurii Kosian ’24 was victorious in the 200-yard freestyle. At the end of day three, the Owls had the second most points with 1254.5. The Big Red had 1265.5 points.
A year ago, Kenyon entered the final day up 34 points. Throughout the session, the lead had gotten to three points heading into the final relay event. Unable to capture first, the Big Red hoisted the 2022 trophy. This year, the Owls were determined to not let that happen again.
On day four, the Owls showed their might. In a record-breaking performance, Krtinic swam a 49.45 in the 100-yard individual medley. That time bested the previous NCAC record, but unfortunately for him, he finished runner-up in the event to Denison’s Richie Kurlich, who broke the NCAA record with his performance. Kosian was the first Owl to top the podium on day four, winning the 200-yard backstroke. Dragojlovic followed suit in the 100-yard freestyle, winning the first event of his career at the NCAC Championship meet.
With two events left, the Owls led by 47 points. Kenyon ensured that there would be no Big Red comeback by dominating both the three-meter diving and the 400-yard freestyle relay. Zavaleta led the divers, winning the event in convincing fashion. The Owls also nabbed the next three spots. “We had a mission to accomplish going first, second, third, fourth, and we did it,” said Zavaleta. “I could not be more proud of my teammates.”
In the 400-yard freestyle relay, the Owls set a pool record by finishing with a time of 2:55.50. Dragojlovic, Kosian, De Silva and Brooks broke Denison’s record of 2:56:45 set in 2021.
Kenyon will look to win the national championship for the first time since 2015 on March 15-18. Before invitations for the NCAA Championship meet are sent out, the Owls will compete at the Fast Chance Invitational in Gambier on Saturday, and the divers will compete in the NCAA Diving Regionals on Feb. 24 and 25. When Zavaleta was asked about his thoughts on the team, he wrote: “This is just the beginning.”