By John Lohn
HOLLAND, Mich., March 16. SINCE no other school has won the championship since 1979, there's only one logical choice to finish atop the standings at this week's Division III Men's Championships. It's Kenyon College, no arguments. When action kicks off Thursday, the Lords will begin their quest for a 26th consecutive title.
Last year, Kenyon cruised to a 200-plus point victory over Emory University while Carnegie-Mellon snagged the third slot. During the rout, Kenyon posted wins in six individual events and swept the five relays. It doesn't get much more dominant than that. Simply put, Kenyon is the premier dynasty of all collegiate sports.
In seeking another crown, the Lords will turn to the talents of Elliot Rushton, a senior from Canada. Rushton has captured the last two 1,650 free titles and last year added the 500 free championship. Meanwhile, Andrejs Duda (Latvia) is the two-time defending titlist in both butterfly disciplines.
The Lords, who have not lost a relay race at the NCAA Championships since 2000, should also benefit from Davis Zarins and Russell Hunt. Zarins is a threat to win the breaststroke races and Hunt was the Division III champion in the 100 backstroke during the 2003 season.
Although defeating Kenyon is a monumental task – bordering on impossible – perhaps Emory can ride the momentum of its women's program, which captured the Division III title last week. Emory has finished in the top three in the team standings in each of the last five years. The team has qualified the maximum 18 competitors.
Chris Halstead is the defending champion in the 200 backstroke and is also a high-scoring threat in the 200 individual medley. Brandon Burke is another reliable contributor in the individual medley disciplines and Justin Hake has the nation's fastest time in the 100 butterfly.
The race for top-five finishes is also expected to feature Denison, Carnegie Mellon, Williams College and Johns Hopkins. Although it sends only six swimmers to the meet, Carnegie Mellon is loaded with top-flight talent, including Chris Pearson, the University Athletic Association Swimmer of the Year in each of the last two years.
Bryce Peterson should score big in the distance free events for Denison. Peterson is ranked second in the nation in the 200 free and fourth in the 500 free. As for Hopkins, it will rely heavily on the contributions of J.P. Balfour, the school-record holder in the 200 back. Williams, meanwhile, has Will Cunningham, a threat to take first place in the 200 I.M. and 100 back.