By Josh Jeffrey
FORT LAUDERDALE, April 27. THE NCSA Junior Nationals weren't the only game in Florida this April as hundreds swimmers from YMCAs across America convened in Ft. Lauderdale for the YMCA Short Course National Swimming Championships, marking the 25th year the meet has been held at the Hall of Fame Pool. This year's meet was exceptional, resulting in eleven new YMCA national records.
The record breaking festivities began in preliminaries on day one, as fourteen year-old Tricia Weaner of the West Shore YMCA in Pennsylvania posted a 55.15 in qualifying in the 100 yard backstroke, breaking the standard of 55.29 set by Georgia Bulldog great Stefanie Williams in 1998. Weaner's personal best time is a 54.92, set at the age of thirteen.
She had no problem winning in finals, taking the 100 back handily, but just missed the chance at resetting the record, touching in at 55.18 for the win. Later in the meet, Weaner also won the 200 back by nearly four seconds, touching at 1:58.94. Her personal best of 1:58.84 would have been just enough to nip the YMCA national record of 1:58.86 set by former USS National champion Suzanne Toledo in 1993.
The men's dorsal events were dominated by Boise Y's Sam Masson. Though he didn't break any records, Masson scored convincing wins in four events, the 100 (49.43) and 200 (1:46.09) backstrokes, as well as the 100 (48.37) and 200 (1:46.66) butterfly events. The versatile Masson will be a welcome addition for Mark Schubert's USC Trojan squad this fall, joining the likes of breakout star Ous Mellouli.
The men's 500 freestyle featured a record-breaking performance by M.E. Lyons' star Kevin Nead. The seventeen year-old National Junior team member touched for the win at 4:22.95, breaking the previous standard of 4:23.21 set by former Stanford University NCAA champion Adam Messner in 1997.
Nead would also come back to take nearly 10 seconds off his YMCA national record in the 1000 freestyle, touching in 9:08.73, obliterating his former standard of 9:18.51 from last year's meet. Boise's Blake Copple, who entered with a seed time of 9:25.18, shaved more than 12 seconds off that time to touch at 9:12.39 for second, also well under the previous standard.
Nead took a third title when he closed the meet by winning the 1650 freestyle in a time of 15:20.51.
He was prevented from taking a fourth title and another record by Champaign Y's Michael Alexandrov, who not only would win three titles, but also would break two YMCA National records. Alexandrov, who swims for Bulgaria internationally and will compete for Northwestern University in the fall, clocked a 1:48.72 to take the 200 IM on night one before stamping his name on two new records.
The first came in the 200 breaststroke, where he broke a ten year-old standard, touching at 1:58.28 to erase the old mark of 1:58.43 set by Countryside's Marty Hubbell back in 1992.
His biggest win came in the 400 IM, where he touched in a scorching 3:48.79, obliterating the previous mark of 3:52.90 set by Dan Shevcik in 1999 by over four seconds. He was pushed to the win by Kevin Nead, who also finished under the previous record, hitting the pads at 3:51.48 for second place.
Alexandrov's hopes for a fourth title were quashed in the most exciting race of the meet, the men's 100 breaststroke, where Minot, North Dakota's Matt Lowe defeated him in what to the naked eye would be considered a tie. Alexandrov and Lowe both split an identical 25.80 at the 50, and continued the stroke for stroke battle all the way to the wall, with Lowe edging Alexandrov by an excruciating hundredth of a second, 54.84 to 54.85. Lowe, who earned a second title in taking the 100 freestyle (45.17), became the first North Dakota swimmer ever to win individual YMCA National titles.
The women's 1000 freestyle saw three ladies make waste of the previous Y national record, but it was last year's winner, and the existing record-holder, Katie Nelson of San Pedro Y, who took first place. Nelson's time of 9:46.23 destroyed the mark she set last year in winning at 9:55.64 by nearly 10 full seconds. This year, the old record would have only been good enough for fourth place, as second place Sasha Malanina of Roanoke Central (9:50.88) and third place Margy Keefe of M.E. Lyons (9:51.71) were both well under the existing standard.
Nelson's second title of the meet came in the 1650 free, where she took the win with her time of 16:21.56. This fall, Nelson will be a welcome addition to Cyndi Gallagher's UCLA Bruins squad, which is in dire need of distance swimmers.
Brittany Johnson of the Winston-Salem YMCA and Ashley Carusone of the North Central Florida YMCA have long been rivals at YMCA Nationals, trading titles and events, and this year would be no exception. Defending champion Johnson got her name on the board first, breaking the Y National record in the 200 IM with a stellar 2:00.23, shattering the previous standard of 2:01.12 set in 1988 by former Stanford University NCAA champion Janel Jorgensen. For good measure, on day two, she would also take the title in the 200 yard freestyle over defending champion Carusone, winning in 1:47.84 to Carusone's second place 1:50.09.
The two were just getting started. Day four saw a titanic battle waged in the women's 400 individual medley, where both appeared shoulder to shoulder throughout the entire race until the final 50, where Carusone split 27.48 to Johnson's 28.49 to pass her for good, hitting the pads in a scorching 4:13.35 to set a new Y National record, shattering the mark of 4:15.90 set by Sarah Maggio in 1994. Johnson too was under the mark, at 4:14.14, both girls more than six seconds ahead of the field.
The outcome of the women's 200 butterfly went exactly the same way, with merely 6 hundredths separating the two at the 150 until Carusone blasted past Johnson in the final two laps, touching at a swift 1:57.91 to break the 1994 mark of 2:00.01 set by former Michigan great Talor Bendel, with Johnson once again under the previous record at 1:59.19 for second. Though the two have been rivals throughout their career, they'll soon be teammates, as both Carusone and Johnson have signed to join Gregg Troy's fast-rising Lady Gators at the University of Florida this fall.
The only other individual record of the meet fell when seventeen year-old Gary Grant of the Woodland Hills YMCA won the 50 freestyle in 20.34, breaking the mark of 20.41 set in 1994.
The overall team title was taken easily by M.E. Lyons with 740 points, more than 300 points ahead of second-place Richmond Central (438.50), with the Wilton Family YMCA (338) rounding out the top three.
The men's team title went to M.E. Lyons with 408 points, well ahead of second place Boise Y (278), with Wilton Family Y (258) once again finishing third.
The women's team title was a bit of a surprise. All indications said the title would go to the perennial champion M.E. Lyons squad as well, especially after their record-breaking perforrmance in the women's 800 free relay. Ellie Miller, Katie Ball, Margy Keefe, and Megan Tomes combined to finish 10 seconds ahead of second-place Plymouth for the win, their 7:24.42 shattering the Y National record of 7:25.64 set by Sarasota in 1988.
Plymouth, though not having won any individual events during the meet, did win three relays, which sealed the deal, pulling them ahead of M.E. Lyons for the women's team title. Plymouth's ladies finished with 358 points to M.E. Lyons' 332. Third place went to the Winston-Salem YMCA with 358 points.
Full results can be found at www.ymcaswimminganddiving.org