BALTIMORE, Md., Febraury 18. USC's Erik Vendt has probably never heard of Johns Hopkins senior distance specialist Scott Armstrong.
And that's too bad because they may develop a very close relationship come April in Indianapolis.
Vendt, the national collegiate leader in the 1650 free and defending NCAA Division 1 champ, will be favored in the 1500 free come the U.S. Nationals in speedway city the first week of "the cruelest month."
But Mr.Armstrong may just give him a run for the mile free gold if what he's done so far this collegiate season is any indication.
Back in December, Armstrong, a Hopkins Blue Jay senior from Medford Lakes, NJ, who was runner-up in the 500-1650 frees at last season's NCAA DIII Championships, broke the divisional record in the mile by a cool five seconds-plus with his 15:20.62 at the Miami (OH) Invitational Dec. 5 in Oxford..
Armstrong's clocking broke the old NCAA DIII record of 15:25.75 by Kenyon senior Mike Bonomo from last year's championshiups. Armstrong chased the winner home and finished a close second in a then pr and Hopkins record 15:27.80.
The 6-3, 170-pound Blue Jay senior also swam division-leading times of 3:58.31 for the 400 IM and 4:27.52 for the 500 free at Oxford, and will likely be seeded No. 1 in each when this season's meet begins in another month at Emory University in Atlanta.
His IM clocking was a pr and Hopkins record too. His 500 time was a couple of seconds off his pr-JHU standard of 4:25.7 that got him No. 2 at last year's NCAAs.
However, the race's winner, U Cal Santa Cruz freshman Ben Weston (4:25.16), will be back to dcfend his crown so Armstrong's not home free by any stretch of the imagination.
The DIII 500 record, 4:24.59 by Kenyon's Dennis Mulvihill, has been on the books for 15 long years — having been swum at the 1988 Championships. The divisional standard in the 400 IM — which Armstrong did not swim last season, opting for the 200 free instead — is 3:54.88 by yet another Kenyon star, Brett Holcomb, from two years ago.
Armstrong, who is featured in this week's Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" section, has already had success at Emory's pool. He won the 1650 there at an invitational the second weekend of November.
As for the possible matchup with Vendt at Nationals, Armstrong laughs. "I just want to win NCAAs, that's my only goal right now."
Until perhaps the late '80s-early '90s, the NCAA allowed championions from its DII-III meets to swim at the DI meet if they met the qualifying standard. Now, however, an athlete must meet the qualifying standard in-season. Since the rule's passage none have.
The NCAA auto cut for the 1650 free is 15:01.39. Provisional is 15:28.43 but to enter "The Big Show" Armstrong would have to have an auto cut in another event. At present, neither he nor any other DIII swimmer has such.
– Bill Bell