NCAA Swim Meets of the Week: McKendree Men’s Swim Takes Down Lindenwood to Sit Among Nation’s Elite in Division II

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Jimmy Tierney has built a powerhouse team in McKendree in just four years. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

NCAA Swim Meet of the Week

School is starting up this week for many of the college across the NCAA this week and that means that the intense grind of winter break training is now over. The countdown to championship has begun, but that doesn’t mean taper has started. In fact, we are still roughly seven weeks away from the start of NCAA championship season as Division II will have their first crack at nationals the week before women’s Division I. As we inch closer and closer to championship season, we look back at our NCAA swim meets of the week, which featured matchups that set up particular teams for success at the end of the year.

NCAA Swim Meet of the Week Division I: Minnesota Upends USC in Non-Conference Battle

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Lindsey Kozelsky won two events for the Gophers against USC. She has a potential to finish her career out in style with a national title in the 100 breast. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Minnesota vs. USC Results

Just a day after Dave Salo announced this would be his last season as head coach at the University of Southern California, the Trojans had the difficult task of swimming a meet after the devastating news. They swam Minnesota of the Big Ten after the Gophers were on their way home from training trip in Hawaii, making a pit stop in Los Angeles. With emotions running high, USC ultimately came up short against the Golden Gophers, with Minnesota claiming wins in the men’s and women’s competitions.

On the women’s side, the #24 Gophers won by ten points over the #9 Trojans. With no divers in the meet, the pool was the only thing scoring between the two teams as Minnesota saw strong performances from Tevyn WaddellLindsey Kozelsky and Abby Kilgallon, who all won at least two events. Waddell won both backstrokes and the 200 IM. Kozelsky swept the breaststrokes and Kilgallon won both the 500 and 1000.

With no more Lilly King in the picture, the breaststroke race is wide open at NCAAs. That has played well for Kozelsky, who has been in the top four in the 100 breast at NCAAs each of the last three years. Now in her senior season, this is her final shot to win an NCAA title and she is looking in good shape to do so with the 1:00.47 in the 100 and 2:13.21 in the 200. Although she is much better at the 100, Kozelsky should be able to make the A-Final in the 200 as well, but the 100 will be her best shot to win the title. Kozelsky sits third in Division I in the 100 breast and is looking to finish her career on a good note.

USC has been traditionally a strong breaststroke team but were severely hurting this weekend without Junior Maggie Aroesty, who did not swim in the meet. Without Aroesty, Minnesota was able to go 1-2-3 in the 100 and 1-3-4 in the 200, racking up huge points in the process. Aroesty has only swam two meets this entire season and the Trojans have been hurting without her.

Waddell was valuable in the backstroke events for Minnesota as she won the 100 (54.55) and 200 (1:58.83), scoring a 1-2 finish in the 100 and 1-2-3 in the 200. She also won the 200 IM which closed out the meet in style, winning at 2:01.31, out-touching two USC swimmers to clinch the meet for Minnesota.

The Gophers showed no signs of fatigue coming home from a strenuous training trip in Hawaii.

USC on the other hand did not have a similar story. Superstar Louise Hansson did her job, finishing second in the 200 fly (2:01.82) and winning the 100 fly (53.66), and also swimming on both winning relays. None of the times she swam were particularly impressive but she was involved in 1-2 finishes in both events, doing her job for the team.

USC just did not have enough pieces around Hansson to be able to stop Minnesota and missing Aoresty definitely hurt them. Junior sprinter Marta Ciesla won the 50 (22.92) and was second in the 100 (50.14), but couldn’t do anything about Minnesota’s distance depth.

Minnesota’s Kilgallon led 1-2 finishes in both the 1000 (9:58.97) and 500 (4:54.03) which was huge for them in the end.

The Gophers are not deep enough to be able to contend with Michigan in the Big Ten, but this showing in Los Angeles they had should be a good sign moving forward that they could potentially crack the top two at Big Ten’s ahead of Indiana and Ohio State. Michigan is by far the team to beat in the conference, but that second spot seems wide open and Minnesota could crack that.

As for USC, Hansson will do her job at NCAAs, but she will need some help from her teammates on relays. The more relays they can score in the top eight at NCAAs, the better. They don’t seem to have the team to contend for a top four finish but they should be vying for a top ten spot in Salo’s last year.

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Max McHugh could be the first Minnesota male swimmer to win an NCAA title since 1964. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

On the men’s side, NR Minnesota won over #20 USC 149 – 113 with super sophomore Max McHugh taking the 100 breast with a stunning 52.93, and the 200 at 1:56.84. Matt Thomas and Cameron Kelley each picked up two wins for the Gophers as they picked up a big win as well over USC in Los Angeles. That meet should be able to propel them into the top 25 poll and should give them some confidence heading into Big Ten’s. They don’t quite have the depth to match the likes of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State, but they should be competitive alongside the likes of Purdue, Iowa and Wisconsin in the second tier.

McHugh is looking really, really good for Minnesota this season. A 52.9 in-season is nothing to scoff at, and he could be the first Minnesota swimmer to win an individual NCAA title on the men’s side since Lyndon B. Johnson was President. This seems hard to believe because Minnesota has always been a consistently strong team, but they haven’t had an individual NCAA champion since 1964. If this year isn’t his year, then he has some time as he is only a sophomore. But he currently sits at the top of the country in the 100 breast. He will likely get a push from Cal sophomore Reece Whitley and those two will be expected to have a nice rivalry over the next couple of years. But McHugh is built like a linebacker and has a lot of strength and that plays to his favor in short course yards, making him look like the man to beat in the 100 breast.

And plus, if McHugh wins the 100 breast at NCAAs, and Kozelsky wins as well, it will be a sweep for the school in that event!

A positive for USC is that sophomore Alexei Sancov may have looked tired but he still knows how to get his hand on the wall. Perhaps the school’s best guy, he won the 200 free (1:38.07) and 200 IM (1:50.81). Sancov has the potential to score a lot of points at the NCAA meet in nine weeks, and having gained experience from last year, he could be due for a breakout swim in March.

The news that Salo will be stepping down as head coach is disappointing, as he will finish his 12th season with the Trojans in March. Who will take over after him? There have only been four head coaches of USC swimming, and three of them are in the Hall of Fame, and Salo will likely be on his way in a few years. It’s a tremendous responsibility, so there will be a lot of pressure on who takes the new job. And with only a couple months left of his NCAA coaching career, how will the USC team do moving forward?

NCAA Swim Meet of the Week Division II: McKendree Men Prove They Are Among Nation’s Elite With Win Over Lindenwood

Lindenwood vs. McKendree results

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Xander Skinner. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

It is no short of amazing what Jimmy Tierney has done for the swimming and diving program at McKendree University in little Lebanon, Illinois. The program started literally from nothing in the fall of 2016, and just four years later is one of the best teams in Division II. Similar to what happened to NC State in Division I, McKendree has become a freestyle powerhouse in Division II.

Led by Xander Skinner, the #8 Bearcats took down #17 Lindenwood 172 – 122. Skinner won the 200 free (1:40.98) and was second in the 50 (21.02) behind teammate Gregg Lichinsky (20.98). Skinner anchored both the winning relays, splitting a 20.16 on the end of their 200 medley relay as well as a 44.92 in the 100 free in this week’s NCAA swim meet of the week Division II.

With Skinner’s help, McKendree is among the nation’s elite in Division II circles as they handled a strong Lindenwood team until the end. They will have their hands full come championship season when they line up alongside the top two ranked teams in the country in #1 Indianapolis and #2 Drury, as well as #15 Missouri S&T, who nearly won the meet last season. McKendree is strong in the relays, and that’s exactly what you need to be strong in a championship meet and Tierney has done a nice job of building McKendree into a contender the last few years.

The core group of Skinner, Lichinsky, Matija PucarevicThrostur Bjarnason and Fabio Dalu are strong from the 50 to the 1650, which means they will be solid across all three free relays. Add in freshma backstroker Davante Carey and freshman breaststroker John Heaphy and they have strong medley relays that can all make an A-Final at NCAAs. Carey, who is just 16, has been a nice addition to the team this season as one of the nation’s top sprint backstrokers. He won the 100 back on Saturday with a 50.27 and also split a 22.79 leading off the medley relay. His 200 is not as strong as his 100, but should improve as he grows with the program.

Carey is the “weak link” of the relay, but seems to be the final piece the team needs to crack a top four finish at NCAAs. Heaphy is ranked in the top 16 in the 100 breast in Division II as he has been a huge addition to the program this season. This feels almost exactly like what happened with NC State a few years ago. They built strong freestyle relays and gradually picked up strokers to eventually be competitive in all five relays and become a consistent contender on the national stage.

Dalu, who is only 17, won the 1650 with a 15:40.89 as one of the nation’s top distance swimmers in his freshman season. Luca Simonetti finished second in the 200 free to Skinner at 1:41.23 and he also finished second in the 500 at 4:41.65 behind Bjarnason (4:39.56).

Seniors Simonetti and Pucarevic and junior Skinner have been on all three free relays for McKendree the last two years, so this could be the culmination of a well-built foundation if they can score high in the relays at nationals. That core group, along with Lichinsky, will be very dangerous in all the free relays in seven weeks.

On the women’s side, #7 Lindenwood came out with a hard fought win over #21 McKendree 180 – 116. Although McKendree won both relays, the Lions had plenty of 1-2 finishes to override those relay points, finishing first and second in four events, using their depth to propel past the Bearcats.

Leticia Rodrigues collected two wins in the 1650 (17:37.39) and 500 (5:12.01) and Lexie Winnett claimed the 50 free (24.74) and 200 breast (2:27.24) as the two juniors provided solid leadership at the meet. Senior Kamila Kunka took the 200 back at 2:05.71, showing off Lindenwood’s strengths in the distance events. They went 1-2 in the 1650, 500 free and 200 IM, and also finished first and second in the 50 free.

Even without Jana Hellenschmidt at her best, the Lions were still strong in the pool despite McKendree’s strengths coming to play in exposing the Lions’ weaknesses in the sprint relays. Hellenschmidt was sixth in the 200 free (1:59.77), third in the 200 back (2:14.28) and second in the 200 IM (2:13.32).

Lindenwood is ranked in the top ten in the women’s side, but their strengths lie in different areas than the McKendree men. They are not as strong in the relays but they have are better in the distance events. Whether that will be enough to score a top ten finish at NCAAs will remain to be seen.

Division III: Denison Still the Team to Beat in Division III But the Gap is Closing

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KT Kustritz. Photo Courtesy: Linda Striggo

Denison vs. Calvin vs. Carnegie Mellon Results

It’s hard to tell where people are in terms of training in January. Some swim really well when tired and others are in desperate need of rest in January. So it is difficult to really come up with any sort of takes in this month with the NCAA swim meet of the week. That is the case for Denison’s KT Kustritz, who was the first Division III woman to break 1:00 in the 100 breast. She only managed a 1:05.6 and 2:26.1 over the weekend against Calvin and Carnegie Mellon, however both swims were good enough for the win.

Kustritz has generally been a 1:02/1:03 during duel meets so a 1:05 is slightly alarming. She was a 1:01 at the mid-season invite so it’s probably not a cause for panic, but it is still strange to see. The Denison women are ranked #1 in the CSCAA poll and defeated #12 Carnegie Mellon 172.5 – 127.5 and #21 Calvin 235 – 65.

It wasn’t quite a walk in the park for the Denison women, as they had event wins from Kustritz, Tara Culibrk (200 free), Zoe Whalen (200 fly), Gabriella Nutter (50, 100 free) and Caroline Colville (500 free). They have the depth to compete for a national title and end Emory’s long winning streak. Do they have a weak spot? Well, Carnegie Mellon did take a couple wins on the women’s side in the backstroke events with Tiffany Tseng winning the 100 (57.67) and Jessica Chau winning the 200 (2:07.12). Backstroke looks to be Denison’s weakness right now as Tseng also won the 100 fly with a 58.48 for Carnegie Mellon. Emma Nicklas-Morris also led a 1-2-3 finish for Carnegie Mellon in the 200 IM with a 2:09.50.

Carnegie Mellon looks to be an underrated team moving forward to championship season, especially on the men’s side. #10 Carnegie Mellon took a loss to #2 Denison 162 – 136 and did beat #15 Calvin 197 – 103. Sprinter Matthew Nagler, butterflyer Alexander Tarczynski and distance swimmer John McNab came up big for the Tartans and all three are freshmen. Nagler got second in the 50 free to Calvin’s Noah Holstege (21.26), Tarczynski won the 100 fly (50.32), was second in the 200 fly and third in the 200 IM, and McNab won the 1000 (9:32.77) and 500 (4:39.84).

The Tartan men were 16th at NCAAs last year but with these three new freshmen coming in, they look to be on their way to a bright future.

Denison on the other hand looks like they will have some trouble in three-peating this year. Obviously, January results are nothing to overreact to, but the Big Red will be able to rely on the likes of Bebe Wang, Richie Kurlich and Kymani Senior but they don’t appear to have the depth that they have had in recent years.

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