Swim teams finish second in conference

Lucas Aulbach

At the end of a four-day contest that saw many school records fall, the WKU men’s and women’s swim teams both finished in second place at the Sun Belt Conference championships in Dallas.

The men came into the final day with a 2.5-point lead but were unable to hold off a late surge by Denver on Saturday.  The teams traded the lead three times early in the day.

“The whole thing came down to the last couple events,” Head Coach Bruce Marchionda said.  “That’s about as close as it gets.”

The Toppers’ lead coming into Saturday was cut significantly after a protest by Denver the night before overturned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Pioneers that cost WKU 34 points of its cushion.

Senior Nick Slattery set school records in the 100 and 200 butterfly events and was also participating in the last championship of his career.

“It means a lot to get my name on the record board,” he said.  “It’s been one of my goals since I was a freshman.”

Slattery said Saturday was a very emotional day, and he was proud of the team for working together and performing well.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out,” he said.

Despite several strong performances and new school records, the women’s team also placed second behind a Denver squad that led for most of the week.

A total of 18 school records were set over the course of the four days, and while the conference championship marks the end of the season for team competition, several members set times that qualify for the upcoming NCAA National Championships in March, which will finish the swimming season.

Marchionda said that despite finishing in second, the teams’ accomplishments — such as the records and qualifying times — are very important for the program.

Several individuals were recognized over the weekend, including senior Claire Donahue, who was named the Sun Belt’s Women’s Swimmer of the Year. This was the second consecutive year she’s earned the honor.

Marchionda was also named Women’s Swimming Coach of the Year.   

Donahue, who won every individual event she competed in, set three individual school records and was a part of several team records.  Many of her times qualified her for the national championships, though she had already qualified in some events earlier in the season.

“We were really hoping to win, and we really thought we could,” she said.

Donahue said she was pleased with the amount of potential qualifiers for nationals. 

WKU scored one automatic qualifying time and  22 provisional qualifying times in Dallas, and while many provisional times won’t be enough to get swimmers into the national championship lineup, they still ensure that the swimmers are in contention.

One of those times belonged to sophomore Hilary Mishler, who set a new school and conference record in the 200-yard backstroke with a time of 1:56.85.

“Hilary Mishler had a time that’s right on the line,” Donahue said. “It’s going to be exciting to see if she gets in.”

Donahue said though the teams came up a little short of the titles, the week was still a success and the teams put in good performances.

“We came together and swam as fast as we could,” she said.