SWIMMING: Men one win shy of second-ever 15-0 finish

Josh Buckman

Western’s men’s swimming and diving team left the Preston Health and Activities Center pool Saturday one dual meet victory shy of matching the best season in its history.

But it wasn’t easy.

Southwest Missouri swept the men’s one-meter diving event with only two events to go and left the Hilltoppers needing a miracle to preserve their lead.

They got it.

With the entire team cheering him on, freshman Stephen AyersCQ managed to hold off SMS’s highly regarded breast strokers to win the 200-yard breaststroke (2:07.99).

“The coaches told us it came down to the breaststroke and the relay, and we needed a big win in the breaststroke to relieve some of the pressure and stuff,” Ayers said. “It felt like everyone was cheering for me, and that really resurged my energy, and I was able to go really fast.”

The win against SMS (135-108) and another against Emory (205-38) keeps the team undefeated at 14-0 with one meet to go.

At the start of the meet, the relay team of seniors Gord VeldmanCQ and Charlie KnightCQ, sophomore Chad WaitsCQ and junior Jay SmithCQ grabbed the top spot in the 400-yard medley relay in 3:23.43. Another Hilltopper relay team finished second.

In the next event , the 1,000-yard freestyle, freshman Karl SwansonCQ finished a strong second with the second-fastest time in school history (9:29.62) to keep the momentum going.

Senior Jerrod Janes took the top spot in the 50-yard freestyle (21.05) while teammate sophomore Greg StricklerCQ won the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 1:53.93.

After the Bears swept the top three spots in the one-meter diving, Waits, junior Ryan Crosby and sophomore Alex Handley countered, going one-two-three in the 200-yard butterfly.

The win for Waits was hard-fought. After missing two weeks with a shoulder injury, he came back to set a new Preston pool record (1:51.03).

When Veldman won the 100-yard freestyle (45.97), head Coach Bill PowellCQ pulled him from the 200-yard backstroke to rest him for the 400-yard medley relay later in the meet. Powell still hoped the other backstrokers could take the top three spots in the event.

The move worked when sophomore Nick BraccoCQ (1:51.18), Strickler (1:53.14) and sophomore Paul GravesCQ (1:54.20) swept the 200.

“It gave me a little hope because coach had faith in me and Gord had faith in me, and with people like Greg Strickler and Paul Graves you know we can do well,” Bracco said.

SMS tried to mount a comeback, winning the 500-yard freestyle and the three meter diving events, but Ayers upset victory seemed to end that hope before Veldman, junior Matt NalboneCQ, Janes and Smith won the 400-yard freestyle relay in 3:04.76.

The Hilltoppers will now try to finish the season undefeated when Evansville comes to town Wednesday. Western defeated Evansville 132-70 earlier in the season.

The Lady Toppers were not so lucky Saturday. The womens’ team lost to Southwest Missouri 139-104 and Emory 131-110.

SMS and Emory combined to take nine of 13 events, and showed strong depth that proved to be too much for the Lady Toppers. Western was also hurt when illnesses struck several swimmers.

“I think we’re sad about it, but they were two pretty good teams, and plus we had a lot of girls out from sickness so we weren’t up to our full capabilities this week,” freshman Rachel BuncherCQ said.

Western’s Jordan Beck won the 200-yard individual medley (2:10.35) and the 200-yard butterfly (2:07.83) while teammates Trisha NailorCQ won the three meter diving (230.35) and Marci KascirCQ took the top spot in the one meter (243.65).

However it wasn’t enough as the Lady Toppers finish the dual meet season with a 17-5 record. Their next challenge will be the Sun Belt Conference Feb. 13.

Reach Josh Buckman at [email protected]