SAN ANTONIO, Texas, February 27. UNLV’S sprinters stole the show Thursday night at the Western Athletic Conference Championships, as freshman Dillon Virva threw down an NCAA ‘A’ cut in the men’s 50 free then helped his 200 free relay teammates do the same as the Rebels maintained a slim lead over Wyoming in the men’s team standings. Cal State Bakersfield and Idaho also picked up three wins on the night, while the Northern Arizona women continued to be buoyed by their incredible depth.
After qualifying first in the men’s 500 free by more than six seconds this morning, Cal State Bakersfield’s Mitchell Huxhold showed that his morning swim was no fluke with another dominating performance. Huxhold outdistanced the final heat by just under four seconds this time, touching in 4:17.40. That was just off his prelims swim of 4:17.23, which ranks 16th in the country. North Dakota freshman Noah Lucas touched second in 4:21.27, with Air Force’s Andrew Faciszewski in third at 4:22.83.
Cal State Bakersfield kept the ball rolling in the next event, sweeping the 500 free crowns as sophomore Michaela Paige posted the only sub-4:50 swim of the day, a 4:48.90, for the win. Northern Arizona’s Emma Lowther, who challenged Paige for the first half of the race, hung on for second in 4:51.29. Delise Batiza made it a 1-3 finish for Bakersfield with a third-place effort of 4:53.34.
An exciting race ensued in the next event, the men’s 200 IM. Wyoming’s Adam Kalms, UNLV’s Giacomo Gremizzi and Grand Canyon’s Iegor Lytvenok all touched within four-tenths of each other at the 150-yard mark before Lytvenok came storming home in 24.75 to take the victory in 1:44.84. Kalms slipped in for second at 1:45.14, while Gremizzi took third in 1:45.44. All three times are relatively close to the A standard of 1:43.38 and could be in consideration for a trip to NCAAs next month.
Going into the final 50 of the women’s 200 IM, Idaho’s Rachel Millet and Grand Canyon’s Hannah Kastigar were separated by only .08. Millet turned up the jets on the final two lengths, out-splitting the rest of the field by more than a full second to win in 1:59.60. Kastigar, who had a huge breaststroke split to take a slight lead at the 150, faded to second in 2:00.68. Northern Arizona’s Jordan Burnes rounded out the top three in 2:02.65.
The future of UNLV sprinting looks incredibly bright, as the Rebels placed three freshman and one junior in the championship final of the men’s 50 free. Leading the way were two freshmen; Dillon Virva won the event in 19.11, followed by Tom Paco-Pedroni in 19.63. Virva has now officially qualified for NCAAs after surpassing the A cut in the event by almost two-tenths. His previous best had been a 19.37 from the UNLV Fall Invitational. Virva is now the third-fastest in the country behind Florida’s Brad DeBorde (18.88) and Auburn’s Marcelo Chierighini (19.04), as a freshman. Grand Canyon’s Michael Branning, who threw down an 18.84 anchor on the medley relay last night, took third in 19.77.
Idaho made it two straight victories in the next event as junior Erica Anderson claimed the women’s sprint title in 23.08. Grand Canyon freshman Jovanna Koens finished right behind in 23.21, followed by North Dakota’s Courtney Funk in 23.62.
Cal State Bakersfield picked up its third win of the evening behind an outstanding performance from Tyler Greenwald in men’s 1-meter diving. The freshman posted a score of 258.95 to top second place finisher Clayton Metcalf of North Dakota by more than 10 points (248.60). UNLV freshman Spenser Sullivan took third with 246.00 points.
Idaho then picked up its third win of the night, and third consecutive, as Mairin Jameson (332.15) and Paige Hunt (315.95) went 1-2 in the women’s 3-meter diving event. Northern Arizona’s Chelsea Jackson finished right behind Hunt for third with 315.85 points.
With the top two swimmers in the men’s 50 free and four of the top eight, it came as no surprise that UNLV dominated the men’s 200 free relay. Tom Paco-Pedroni (19.98), Gui Passos (19.45), Samuel Lameynardi (19.20) and Dillon Virva (18.84) crushed the field with an NCAA ‘A’ cut of 1:17.47, which currently ranks sixth in the nation. Grand Canyon also put together four sub-20 swims as Ilya Glazunov (19.95), Alexandr Dmitriyenko (19.59), Thomas Wahlers (19.81) and Michael Branning (18.98) put together a 1:18.33 for second. Wyoming rounded out the top three in 1:19.55.
The Grand Canyon women earned their first victory of the night in the women’s 200 free relay, as Rebecca Coan (23.53), Catherine Polito (22.86), Hannah Kastigar (22.97) and Jovanna Koens (22.78) combined forces to touch out Idaho, 1:32.14 to 1:32.38. Cal State Bakersfield finished third in the event with a 1:33.20.
Through two days of racing, Northern Arizona maintained its lead in the women’s standings, clinging to a six-point lead over Idaho, 273-267. New Mexico State is in third with 204 points. UNLV leads the men’s team race with 274 points, seven ahead of Wyoming (267). Air Force is in third with 241 points.