By Brian Savard
OXFORD, Ohio, March 21. WHILE it seems practically and mathematically improbable for Denison to win the team title, the Big Red did the impossible on Saturday night nonetheless at the NCAA Division III Men's Championships.
Denison junior David Curtis, who came off of a grueling 200 freestyle win, sought to erase a seemingly impossible three-second deficit to rival Kenyon. With Kegan Borland anchoring the Lord relay, it looked to be a lock for Kenyon.
Curtis held nothing back, churning out a 22.24 opening split. He then split a 24.78 and then a 25.17, coming up on the last 50 within striking distance of Borland. The two went stroke for stroke on the final lap, and Curtis pounded the wall as the captivated spectators erupted in amazement, shock and, in Denison's case, excitement. The clock read 6:40.73. Although the time fell well short of the Division III record in the event (6:36.26), the Big Red entourage couldn't help but feel the greatest sense of accomplishment by defeating Kenyon's relay.
At the end of the evening, however, Kenyon all but ensured a 29th straight national championship, raking in 429 points.
The real intrigue comes in the fight for the runner-up position. Denison proved to be the main player in the run for second, coming out of the second evening with 246.5 points. Johns Hopkins fell back a spot in the team standings from last night with 224 points.
Emory is sitting in fourth with 173 points while Williams crept into fifth place after the 800 freestyle relay (140).
200 medley relay
Kenyon knocked off the former Corwin M. Nixon Natatorium record with its 200 medley relay win in the first event of the evening. The 1:29.16 time swum by the quartet of Tom Irgens, Collin Ohning, Matthew Harris and Joshua Mitchell erased Eastern Michigan University's 2001 pool record of 1:29.48. Johns Hopkins turned in an impressive 1:30.32 for second place, improving upon a third-place finish the Blue Jays put up last year, while New Jersey snuck into third place with a 1:31.70 after being seeded fifth. Depauw won the consolation final heat with a 1:33.27 time.
Kenyon's gold-medal time this year is the fastest swum at the Division III level since Kenyon's 2004 relay won with a 1:29.02.
Keith Diggs from Emory blasted through the 400 IM, using a strong final 100 to motor to a 3:54.80 win. Diggs' time is the fastest swum since Brian McCarthy of Carnegie Mellon set the Division III record in 2004. Diggs placed fifth in the 400 IM last year with a 4:00.88 time.
Ted Marschall of Carleton held the lead for most of the race and had the top qualifying swim. Diggs trumped his finals showing, however, and he settled for second with a 3:56.58, which was Marschall's highest place earned in the three years he has swum the 400 IM. Borland came from lane two, taking third in 3:57.96. Dustin Schneider of Kenyon edged out Hope's Philip Heyboer in the consolation final heat, taking ninth overall with a 4:00.16 time.
Matthew Harris of Kenyon jumped ahead of the pack on the final lap of the 100 butterfly, posting the first sub-48 100 butterfly since Aaron Cole of Denison set the current Division III record of 47.43 in 2000. Harris' time ties Cole's 1999 swim for the second-fastest performance of all time at the Division III level.
Chase Gross from Wisconsin-Stevens Point, who posted the top 50 split (22.42), finished second in 48.23. Gross improved upon a third-place finish in the 100 butterfly from last year. Lowell Byers from Denison rounded out the top three with a 48.57 finish. Dominic Rieniets of Linfield shaved .28 second off of his morning swim to win the consolation final heat in 49.61.
The two Denison teammates who entered the championship finals tied broke their knotted status from the morning as Curtis won his second straight 200 freestyle title with a 1:37.83 while his teammate, Peter Geissinger, took second in 1:38.29. Geissinger, who is usually known for blitzing his competition off of relay splits, touched fifth in the event last year. Alex Fraser from Amherst picked up the third-place honors with a 1:39.27 time.
Alex Sweet of Washington & Lee, who set the Division III record in the 50 freestyle last night, demolished the consolation final heat with a time of 1:39.10, which would have earned a third-place finish in the championship finals.
Pavel Buyanov of Staten Island set the only Division III record of the evening with a 54.49 performance in the 100 breaststroke, taking out Josh Boss of Hope's 1999 record of 54.69. Buyanov battled with Nelson Westby of St. Olaf throughout the entirety of the race, and Buyanov's strong finish was enough to edge the St. Olaf junior by .01. Westby finished in second with the second-fastest time in Division III history (54.50). Myles O'Connor from New Jersey was a dark horse in the event, coming out of lane one to finish third (55.60). David Gatz of Ohio Wesleyan pulled in the consolation final win with a 56.33.
Mitchell missed the Division III record by .08, winning the 100 backstroke in 48.68. John Thomas from Johns Hopkins created another interesting two-man battle for first, as Thomas trailed closely behind with a 48.95 finish. Irgens, who won the consolation final heat last night in the 500 freestyle, dropped a few tenths off of his morning swim to finish third in 50.36. Matt Baker from Alfred outswam the consolation final heat, slamming the touchpad at 51.14. Will Cunningham of Williams cranked out the standing record of 48.60 in 2006.
800 freestyle relay
While the Denison men swam a second faster last year, the 2008 contingent of Geissinger, Byers, Chris Sellon and Curtis stole the gold away from Kenyon on the final leg with a 6:40.73 performance. Kenyon finished second with a 6:41.11 time while Washington (Mo.) pulled out a third-place finish with a 6:43.83.