Author: Damian Mendieta
Amid three days of sunshine, rain and cold temperatures at Splash! La Mirada, the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams showed no signs of letting up, as races were won by mere hundredths of seconds and a long list of All-time Occidental records were left in the dust. The women’s team narrowly missed out on third place to the University of Redlands, as they took fourth place and Caroline Chang (junior) earned the title of SCIAC Female Athlete of the Year. Aided by lifetime best performances, the men bounced back from a seventh place finish last year to garner fourth place honors.
A grand total of four SCIAC league champions won seven titles among them, three automatically winning bids for the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships in Shenandoah, Texas. According to head coach Shea Manning, their first rate performances were spectacular due to the intensive competition they faced.
“They were impressive, especially with NCAA Division III getting faster every year,” Manning said. “It’s a relief to be able to hang their hat on that and not worry about where the invitation line is going to be.”
In the deep end, top-notch diver Jessica Robson (junior) was undefeated in the 1-meter and 3-meter events, winning the high dive by less than two points. For the last three years, Robson has swept every SCIAC diving crown with the one exception being her first year in the 1-meter event.
“I feel good, I’m excited to go to Texas,” Robson said. “It’s a completely different process than it was the last two years I have been competing, so that’s exciting.”
Robson will travel to San Antonio for the Western Region Zone Qualifiers to compete for a shot at the NCAA Championships. Manning said both victories from Robson were huge contributions to the women’s successes though she narrowly won her 3-meter event.
“She had a tough meet but ended up pulling it out by a little under two points and that was huge for us,” Manning said.
A wave of momentum began for the men, as rookie sensation Alex Najarian (first-year) flew by a record older than him to win the 100-yard butterfly by less than four tenths of a second. His “A” cut time of 49.33 seconds automatically qualified for the NCAA championships. On the final day, Najarian broke yet another Occidental all-time record in the 200-yard butterfly with a time of 1:51.72 minutes, good enough for a fourth place finish and a “B” cut.
“To cut over a second and a half on that swim, I still don’t really know how to express that,” Najarian said about the 100-yard butterfly. “I just started sobbing as soon as I touched the wall.”
After Najarian’s victorious swim, Steven van Deventer (sophomore) went ahead and nabbed the first place spot in the 100-yard breaststroke, touching the wall at 55.70 seconds, only .16 seconds faster than the second place finisher. He cleared the NCAA “A” cut time and shattered the all-time Occidental record. Incidentally, van Deventer broke that same record at last year’s SCIAC championships. Kevin Kuwata (sophomore) grabbed the third place spot and All-SCIAC honors with a “B” cut time of 56.95 seconds.
“Shea was going a lot harder on us this year, and as can be seen, it really paid off,” van Deventer said. “Shea knew what he was doing this year.”
In a historic performance, an elite men’s group of Will Westwater (first-year), Najarian, van Deventer, and Kuwata combined to break three Occidental relay records. The cadre picked up All-SCIAC honors with third place finishes in both the 400- and 200-yard medley relays. They posted a time of 3.26.84 minutes in the 400-yard medley and 1:33.78 minutes in the 200-yard medley. The men also clinched the fourth place spot in the 200-yard freestyle relay with a time of 1:25.10, minutes another all-time Occidental best.
The women narrowly held onto third place during the first two days of competition. Eventually, a resurgent University of Redlands squad just beat out the Tigers on the third and last day of the meet. According to Manning, after calculating regular season and SCIAC championship performances, the women tied with Redlands for third overall.
A grand total of seven Occidental records were broken, three from relays and four from individual successes. Key contributors, among others, were co-captain Lauren Ransom (senior), Juliet Suess (junior) and Lizzy Kosin (first-year). Suess narrowly missed out on a “B” cut time in her 200-yard freestyle but finished third at 1:54.23 minutes. Co-captain Alena Morris (senior) and Rebeca Fernández (first-year) teamed up with Kosin and Suess to swim the fastest 800-yard freestyle relay in Occidental history, posting a time of 7:58.34 minutes, the first time under the eight minute mark.
Rookie standout Kosin broke into the top-ten all-time best with her 500-yard freestyle and 400-yard individual medley. Before swimming in college, Kosin had little to no experience in distance events.
“This is my first year actually swimming the 500 free, continously and constantly,” Kosin said. “I had a fun time doing it, I never thought I would have that as one of my individual events.”
Ransom finished her collegiate swimming career by setting a new Occidental record in the 50-yard freestyle, a fourth-place finish at the SCIAC championships.
Chang streaked past the competition to snag both the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke titles. She comfortably won the 200 with a time of 2:17.80 minutes, which also qualified as an “A” cut. The 100 made for a closer race, as teammate Emily Watkins (sophomore) finished right behind Chang with a “B” cut time of 1:05.48 minutes with Chang winning at 1:04.42 minutes.
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