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Owls on top: Women’s swimming and diving wins 25th title

Owls on top: Women’s swimming and diving wins 25th title

The women’s team won its 25th title, and the men’s team earned second-place. Multiple Owls set records. | COURTESY OF JOSH BROWN

The Kenyon women’s swimming and diving team came from behind to win the 2024 NCAA Division III swimming and diving national championships in thrilling fashion for the second time in three seasons, while the men’s team finished second, with Israel Zavaleta ’24 excelling yet again. The four-day competition was hosted in Greensboro, North Carolina. The meet followed a split-day format, where preliminary qualifiers began at 10 a.m., while the finals took place in the evenings.

Women: On March 20, the first day of the championships, Kenyon started strong. In the first event, Bengisu Caymaz ’27 qualified for the 500-yard freestyle final with a time of 4:54.16 in the preliminary round. In an email to the Collegian, Caymaz described how she was completely focused before the championship heat. “Personally, I felt confident before the first race,” she said. “The 500 is an event I enjoy a lot, and I felt good about the specific work I’ve done with [Head Coach] Jess [Book ’01] for this event.” The first-year gave Kenyon the perfect start, clocking in at 4:48.65 to secure first place and her first career national title. Caymaz also picked up 20 points for Kenyon in the process.

In the 200-yard individual medley, Jennah Fadely ’25 came in third place with a time of 2:01.72, a team best for Kenyon this season. Fadely’s third-place finish gave Kenyon a slim four-point lead over Denison University. However, the Owls did not compete in the 50-yard freestyle, allowing the Big Red to take a five-point lead. Finally, in the last event of the day, Caleigh Wukitch ’24, Fadely, Gwen Eisenbeis ’26 and Sydney Geboy ’25 swam the 200-yard individual medley. The quartet finished the race in 1:41.18, good enough for a fifth-place finish. At the end of day one, the Owls sat in second place with 84 points, trailing only the Big Red, who led the pack with 95 points.

At the start of day two, Denison continued to pull away from Kenyon, as the Owls failed to qualify for the championship final in the 200-yard freestyle relay, increasing the Big Red’s lead to 27 points. However, Kenyon showed resilience in the next event, securing two top-five finishes in the 400-yard individual medley. Juniors Jordan Herrera ’25 and Gabby Wei ’25 came in second and fourth place with times of 4:19.53 and 4:22.04, respectively, to get the Owls right back into contention for the top spot. Herrera’s time also set a new Kenyon record, almost a second faster than the previous time. In the last individual event of the day, Caymaz secured a fourth-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:49.97, picking up another valuable 15 points. Kenyon ended the day with the 400-yard medley relay, an event the Owls won a year ago. The relay team of Wukitch, Fadely, Eisenbeis and Lisa Torrecillas-Jouault ’26 placed second with a time of 3:39.18, just one agonizing millisecond behind Williams College (Mass.). Nonetheless, the silver-medal finish earned a monstrous 34 points toward Kenyon’s total. However, the Owls did not field competitors in the 100-yard butterfly or the one-meter diving events, two events in which Denison picked up valuable points. By the end of day two, the Big Red still held the top podium spot with 244 points, while Kenyon was the only other team to crack 200 with 212 points.

On paper, Kenyon’s hopes of a national title seemed to be slipping away at the start of day three. In the 200-yard butterfly, Kenyon did not compete in the event while New York University (NYU) had three top-five finishers in the 200-yard butterfly, taking the Owls’ second-place spot in the standings. But big-time swimmers show up at the most important moments, and Kenyon’s stars did just that in the 100-yard breaststroke, the meet’s turning point. Fadely grabbed first place with a time of 59.80, breaking the previous Kenyon record of 59.94 that she set a year ago. 

In an email to the Collegian, Fadely described her mindset entering the race. “If I’m being honest, I didn’t focus very much on defending the title for myself, but I was determined to do it for my team. I just wanted to swim for something greater than myself and that’s what was going through my head at that moment,” she said. “I was excited to see that I got the job done, but I reminded myself that I wasn’t done yet.” 

Wei rounded out the podium, securing a third-place finish with a time of 1:01.74, also a personal best. Fadely and Wei’s combined 36 points propelled Kenyon into the overall lead, one the Owls would not surrender. The 800-yard freestyle relay was the final event of the day, and Kenyon capitalized on the opportunity to enter Saturday with the overall lead, coming in third place. Caymaz, Fadely, Torrecillas-Jouault and Molly Haag ’26 finished the race with a time of 7:21.28, just one and a half seconds behind Denison’s relay team. With that, the Owls entered the final day of the national championships with 315 total points, only three points ahead of Denison.

The final day of competition began much like the first, with Caymaz securing a first-place finish. This time, Caymaz swam the grueling 1650-yard freestyle race and clocked in at 16:34.67 after completing 32 laps. Securing two national titles in any year is no easy feat, and Caymaz was sure to credit all the hard work the team has done all year long. “It was extremely fulfilling for me to see the long hours and extensive practice schedule translate to wins. I am very happy with my times and the performance I put up. I wasn’t expecting to win these races in my freshman year,” she said. “I also have to thank my teammates for their incredible support. The cheering and energy they brought to each other’s swims is unmatched and really created a great atmosphere.”

The Owls continued to pull ahead from the Big Red in the 200-yard backstroke, as Wukitch earned third place with a time of 1:58.98, her second podium finish of the tournament. Kenyon could taste victory after the 200-yard breaststroke, as Wei and Fadely packed the podium in the top-two positions. Wei’s first-place time of 2:11.70 was another personal best and her first ever national title. Compared to last year, Wei’s time was almost five seconds faster. In an email to the Collegian, Wei expressed how she felt after the race. “I look back at the event and I honestly don’t even remember swimming it,” she said. “When I saw the time, […] I just kind of cried because of how overwhelmed I felt. It also felt really good knowing I had Jennah right there with me, I can’t remember the last time I [swam] a breaststroke event without her. She’s always supporting me and we’re always pushing each other to go faster when we’re training. I just remember seeing her a couple lanes over and her screaming at me that we had just gone 1-2 in the event.” Right behind Wei, Fadely, who won three national titles last year, finished second with a time of 2:12.71, a season best. 

Needing a top-six finish in the final event to clinch the championship, the relay team of Haag, Eisenbeis, Torrecillas-Jouault and Geboy was up to the task. The quartet placed fourth in the 400-yard freestyle relay with a time of 3:23.38, securing Kenyon’s 25th national championship.

As the women’s swimming and diving team hoisted the first-place trophy, Fadely was grateful to reap the rewards of a grueling season. “I was really overwhelmed with so many emotions. I wanted to see my teammates achieve something so amazing and when they put the trophy in our hands I felt so incredibly proud of the people surrounding me,” she said. “To see how hard everyone fought to get us to that place was truly amazing and I could not have been more grateful to be a part of this team.” Caymaz echoed Fadely’s proud sentiment, saying: “Being able to lift the NCAA trophy along with my teammates was very exciting. Everyone contributed to the team tremendously through their amazing swims. I am very grateful to be a part of this amazing team and can’t wait for the years to come.” Wei was likewise ecstatic at the end of the grueling meet. “Lifting the NCAA trophy at the end of day four felt electric. Our women’s team and coaches worked so insanely hard this season,” she said. “It wasn’t so much of a shock that we won, I knew we could do it, it was just nice to know that all of our hard work paid off.”

In an email to the Collegian, Book described the final feeling of day four in one word: satisfying. “It takes a tremendous amount of effort, patience, resolve and ultimately joy to [win a national championship].” Overall, Book was proudest of how the Owls stayed resilient. “Across the season, across the NCAC Championships and across the NCAA Championships this team just kept moving forward,” he said. “Some teams can fall victim to the pressures of ‘winning’ and ‘losing.’ The best teams look beyond the outcome and embrace the race and the moment itself.”

Kenyon finished its time in North Carolina with a final total of 448 points, while Denison finished second with 430. Across the four days, the Owls secured four national titles and 44 All-American awards, capping off another successful swimming and diving season. 

Although the start of the next season gets closer every day, Book, just like his team, is relishing living in the moment (and a well-earned vacation). “Every year is different,” he wrote. “Our core remains constant, but we are ever-changing.”

Men: Zavaleta made history on day one of the meet, securing his third consecutive three-meter diving title, the first diver to do so in Division III history. The victory marked not only his third-straight win but also his fifth overall diving title, establishing a record for the Kenyon men’s program. Zavaleta dominated the competition, finishing with a score of 606.65, well ahead of the runner-up. Elsewhere on day one, Djordje Dragojlovic ’26 also impressed, securing second place in the 50-yard freestyle with a personal-best time of 19.69.

Wednesday concluded with Kenyon’s 200-yard medley relay team of Yurii Kosian ’24, Aleksa Dobric ’25, Marko Krtinic ’24 and Daniel Brooks ’24 placing fourth with a season-best time of 1:26.98. The strong showing from the Owls earned the team 67 points, placing them fifth overall at the end of the day, with NYU sitting at the top of the standings. 

The Owls started Thursday strong, claiming victory in the 200-yard freestyle relay with a record-breaking time of 1:19.19. Dragojlovic and Brooks secured their second consecutive national title in the event, while Dobric and Krtinic earned their first. The victory propelled Kenyon into second place in the overall standings.

In the 400-yard individual medley, Ethan Manske ’26 and Noah Hargrove ’24 secured top-five finishes, pushing Kenyon into the lead with 137 points and surpassing Emory University (Ga.) and NYU. Both Manske and Hargrove achieved personal-best times in the race.

However, Kenyon’s lead was short-lived, as the Owls had no evening qualifiers in the subsequent races and slipped back into third place. The evening concluded on a high note for Kenyon with the 400-yard medley relay team, comprised of Kosian, Dobric, Krtinic and Dragojlovic, setting a new NCAA Division III record with a time of 3:09.78. The victory marked Kenyon’s second consecutive win in the event, with three members being part of the winning team from the previous season.

Friday began with another impressive performance from Zavaleta, as he earned his sixth career diving title, winning the one-meter competition and breaking the D-III men’s all-time record. In an email to the Collegian, Zavaleta reflected on his overall performance, for which he was named the NCAA Division III Diver of the Year for the third time in his collegiate career, cementing his legacy in NCAA diving history. “I am honored to be named NCAA D-III Diver of the Year. This recognition reflects the immense effort I’ve put into my diving and the support and guidance I’ve received from my coaches, teammates, friends and family,” he said. “Their belief in me has been so crucial to my success. This accomplishment reinforces my belief in the power of teamwork, dedication and perseverance. I owe it all to my hardworking team and exceptional coaching staff who have been with me throughout my journey.”

Later in the day, Dragojlovic claimed his first individual title in the 100-yard backstroke, adding to his impressive tally of seven titles in NCAA championship events. Heading into the final day, Kenyon held onto second place, trailing Emory by 55 points.

On Saturday, Dragojlovic clinched his second consecutive event title in the 100-yard freestyle, contributing to Kenyon’s push to narrow the point gap with Emory. In the next race, Kosian, in his final swim for Kenyon, came in second place in the 200-yard backstroke with a time of 1:43.92, improving on a fourth-place finish the previous year. Finally, Kenyon ended on a high with an Owls victory in the 400-yard freestyle relay, securing their seventh event win of the meet. The quartet of Dragojlovic, Krtinic, Brooks and Dobric teamed up yet again to win the event with a time of 2:54.52. 

By the end of Saturday, the Owls, who only brought 11 total swimmers, secured a runner-up title to the NCAA National Championship, while Emory, with 18 total qualified swimmers, ultimately won. Kenyon concluded the meet with 391 team points, while Emory secured its third consecutive team title with 434 points. University of Chicago claimed third place, followed by NYU and Williams College.

Zavaleta reflected on the joys of the tournament: “Cheering on my teammates, celebrating their victories and sharing moments of happiness and love were genuinely memorable experiences,” he said. “Seeing our team grow and become a strong, cohesive unit was a great joy, especially during tough times. These memories will always hold a special place in my heart.”

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