Division III Championship Preview: The North Coast Athletic Conference

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Championship season is officially in full swing. With NCAA Division III teams competing in over 30 different conference championship meets, it’s tough to keep track of them all, but Swimming World will offer a preview of the action at the country’s fastest and deepest meets. Here’s a glimpse at what to expect at the North Coast Athletic Conference Championships.

Teams: Allegheny, Denison, DePauw, Hiram, Kenyon, Oberlin, Ohio Wesleyan, Wabash, Wittenberg, Wooster

Location: Denison University

Dates: February 13-16

An overview: At the top this conference is a battle between Kenyon and Denison. The Big Red men return as the ten time defending champions while the Kenyon Ladies came out on top last year, to mark the fourth consecutive year the title has traded off between the two women’s teams. The teams take the top 10-20 spots in most events based on the psych sheet, ready to race for every point to name a 2019 Conference Champion.

Click here for the psych sheet.

Here’s just eight(ish) of many great races to keep an eye on this weekend…

Women’s 200 IM

Kenyon’s sophomore Crile Hart and Denison’s junior KT Kustritz are the first and second seeds, respectively, in the 200 IM. These two can dominate their primary events (though Hart is so good it’s tough to designate anything as her primary), and the 200 IM is the only place Kustritz will see true competition individually. It is as close to a race as Hart should come this week.

**Hart is racing the 100 back and 200 fly as well. While she’s second seed in the 200 fly, surely anybody with a 54.55 100 fly and her 200 IM and back prowess has the endurance to at least win the event, if not be under two minutes, challenging for Hannah Saiz‘s meet (1:57.32) and maybe some day Kenyon program record (1:55.98). And, this could all be nearly a way to keep things interesting for Hart as she decides what to race in March.**

But back to the 200 IM…the Big Red also have the third, fourth, and fifth (and seventh through 12th) seeds, with the top five entrants all under the 2018 NCAA Invited time. This event is a big points opportunity for Denison.

Women’s Medley Relays

This event duo is leading the running for “race of the meet” already. Denison’s 200 medley relay is seeded just .02 ahead of Kenyon’s, as the two teams come in at 1:41.57 and 1:41.59. The meet record is an old one, a 1:41.17 swum in 2009.

In the 400 medley relay they are seeded just .03 apart, with Denison again leading, 3:42.72 to 3:42.75. In both cases those are the number one and two times in the country this year. As noted in December, both teams are deep enough that they haven’t used the exact same quartet to earn their seed times, so they could still rearrange and perhaps come up with a faster group.

Women’s 200 Back

Without Hart, Kenyon’s senior Delaney Ambrosen has a chance to repeat a title she won in her first year. She’ll have to hold off two of her own teammates– fellow senior Caitlin Foley and sophomore Kaitlyn Griffith— and a few women from Denison (The Big Red are seeded fourth through ninth, with Erica HsuBridget Horton, and Casey Kirby at the top of that list).

In 2016 a 2:02.27 was enough for Ambrosen to secure the title. She’s already been 2:02.52 this year.

Women’s 50 (and 100 and 200 and 500 and 1650) Free

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Photo Courtesy: Aaron M. Sprecher; Kenyon Athletics

In the 50 free there are nine Kenyon or Denison women entered under 24 seconds. In the 100 there are 14 of them entered under 53. In the 200 there’s 11 women under 1:55. That’s depth that only the UAA Conference can challenge.

Kenyon’s senior Abby Wilson is the clear leader of a strong Ladies freestyle group, taking the top seed in the 50, 100, and 200 (23.31, 50.43, 1:49.26). Her classmate Hannah Orbach-Mandel trends longer, taking the second seed in the 100 and 500 and third in the 200, while it’s Ladies sophomore Emmir Mirus with the second seeded 50 free (23.32).

Kendall Vanderhoof is the other key piece to this purple freestyle spread, with the top seeded 500 and second seeded 200. She also enters the 1650 with the fourth fastest time.

While Kenyon manages (at least) the top two spots in the four shortest freestyles, Denison has a few women looming. Maddie Hopkins and Casey Kirby are only a tenth back in the 50 free. Hopkins is in the mix in the 100, but her fellow sophomore Mia Chiappe is a few tenths (and places) ahead. Junior Hannah Ruskino is the Big Red’s top distance swimmer with a third seeded 500 and leads entries in the mile. Chiappe and Ruskino meet in the middle as the fourth and fifth seeds in the 200.

Men’s 500 Free

There are seven men entered with times under 4:30 (and the 2018 Invited time- 4:30.81) in the 500 freestyle.

Matthew Hedman is clearly the country’s leading distance swimmer this year. He set the tone early with a quick October mile (at the time, his fourth best ever, a 15:33.96), and has put up frequent quick dual meet times in the 500, but the margin is just over a second here as Hedman is entered in 4:26.22.

Kenyon’s junior Connor Rumpit and senior Robert Williams take the second and third seeds in 4:27.42 and 4:27.58. Rumpit is seeded just three tenths shy of his lifetime best, so, despite winning this event in his first two years, he may not have much more to chase down Hedman.

It could be a close race the whole way through the championship final as Rumpit and Williams are followed by freshman teammate Bryan Fitzgerald in 4:28.85 and then Denison duo Drake Horton (4:28.96) and James Baker (4:29.07). Horton was an NCAA A finalist last year (4:27.24) who should be able to move up a little this week.

Men’s 400 IM

Nationally, the 400 IM is looking faster than last year (pre-conference championships 18 men were already faster than last year’s NCAA Invited time, and seven of them come from the NCAC). Denison has the top three seeds, but Lords hold the fourth and sixth best times.

Hedman is truly versatile and far more than a freestyle machine. He has the country’s second fastest 400 IM, a 3:53.56. When he went that time in December he was less than a second off his lifetime best and he’s just faster than his teammates Bebe Wang (3:54.79), Mitch Williams (3:55.45), and John Stauffer (3:55.85). Kenyon’s Grant Thompson (3:55.62) and Colin Reardon (3:55.89) are also in the race.

Wang will be coming off the 200 IM the day before where he’s the top seed, but only by .04. For Williams and Reardon, the longer IMs are more their forte.

Hedman will be looking to make it two in a row for 400 IM victories, and to stretch Denison’s count up to four consecutive wins, building off what Jack Lindell started in 2016.

Men’s 200 Back

While Wang, a junior, has significant competition in the IMs, he’s a stronger favorite in the 200 back. Here, Wang is entered with a 1:45.47, over a second faster than Kenyon’s Michael Bartholomew (1:46.70). Despite winning this event at NCAAs last year, Wang has never won the conference title in the 200 back.

Wang and Bartholomew have separated themselves from a loaded rest of the field, as four more men hold sub 1:50 times, all between 1:49.17 and 1:49.81. In 2018 it took a 1:49.04 to qualify for NCAAs, leaving a whole crew of athletes hoping to drop some more time this weekend.

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