Susan LaGrand, Christian Bart Lead Oakland to Eighth Straight Horizon League Championships

HorizonLeaguechamps
Oakland, the 2021 Horizon League men's and women's champions; Photo Courtesy: Horizon League Athletics

Oakland’s men’s and women’s swimming team each captured their eighth straight titles at the Horizon League Championships this weekend.

The Golden Grizzlies were just that, having put the women’s meet away by late in Day 2, the final margin near 400 points. The men’s team race was slightly closer, with just 100.5 points separated Oakland from Cleveland State. With the win, Oakland ties Wright State for the most Horizon League Championships in the sport.

Oakland won all 10 relays contested at the five-day meet. On the men’s side, the Grizzlies rattled off a stretch of nine consecutive event wins bridging from Friday into Saturday to put the meet beyond doubt.

Horizon League Championships Team Scores

Women’s

  1. Oakland 939
  2. Illinois-Chicago 544.5
  3. Milwaukee 476
  4. IUPUI 376.5
  5. Cleveland State 358
  6. Wisconsin Green Bay 338
  7. Youngstown State 274

Men’s

  1. Oakland 819
  2. Cleveland State 718.5
  3. Illinois-Chicago 418
  4. IUPUI 383
  5. Wisconsin Green Bay 374
  6. Milwaukee 306
  7. Youngstown State 300.5

Susan LaGrand was the unquestioned standout, winning the women’s athlete of the year award. She won all three individual events and four relays, setting Horizon League Championships records in the individual races.

LaGrand won the 200 individual medley for the second straight year, her time of 1:57.61 undercutting the record of 1:58.22 she set in 2020. She also downed her record in the 200 backstroke, from the 2019 championships (1:56.74) with a sensational 1:53.99 to dominate the field. It’s the third straight year LaGrand has won the event.

The final piece was the 100 back, which LaGrand seized by going 53.38. The time downs the Horizon League Championships record set by her former teammate, Gracie Shinske, at 53.66 in 2020.

LaGrand led off the winning 400 medley and 200 medley relays (with Sydney McDowell, Mia Keranen and Ronja Riihinen in both). She led off the 800 freestyle relay (Sohvi Nenonen, Kiera Brough, Emily Aycock) with a 1:49.03, the fastest split of the meet and quicker than the time Aycock used to win the event. LaGrand capped the meet by anchoring the 400 free relay (Riihinen, Keranen, Nenonen) with the only sub-50 split of the race (49.53).

Oakland loaded the podium throughout. Aycock and Nenonen went 1-2 in the 200 free and 500 free, Aycock winning in 4:53.27 and 1:49.79, respectively. Aycock, the 2020 Horizon League Championships women’s freshman of the year, also won the mile in 17:00.45, taking the 200 free and mile titles for the second straight year. Nenonen was also second in the 200 butterfly. Riihinen was the women’s freshmen of the meet, finishing second in the 100 free, third in the 50 and seventh in the 200 free along with four relays wins.

McDowell won her third straight 100 breaststroke crown, her time of 1:01.55 leading a 1-2 with Taylor Bailey. Bailey won the 200 breast (2:13.58) in a 1-2 with Emily Shores. McDowell, in a bid to three-peat, finished fourth.

Oakland also produced the diver of the meet, with Bernadette Turchi winning 3-meter and finishing second in 1-meter.

The other women’s standout was Anna Liu of Wisconsin Green Bay. Voted the women’s swimmer of the meet, she swept the 50 free, 100 free and 100 fly. The senior went 23.04 to win the 50, .17 ahead of Illinois Chicago’s Poleena Kovalske. She turned in a 54.75 to win the 100 fly. (Second was Lilly Culp of Illinois Chicago, who would win the 200 fly.) Liu went 49.80 to best Riihinen by .21 seconds in the 100 free.

IUPUI picked up the other swimming win, with Emma Theobald claiming the 400 IM in 4:20.40. Milwaukee’s Mckenzie Sanchez won 3-meter diving.

On the men’s side, Christian Bart was nearly as good for the Golden Grizzlies in earning men’s athlete and swimmer of the year honors. The sophomore repeated as the 100 free champ, going 43.38 to seal his third win. Bart sprinted past the field in the 50 free in 19.71 seconds. He added the 100 breast title, just .08 off a five-year-old Horizon League Championships record with a winning time of 52.56. Teammate Ryan Geheb was second.

Bart displayed his versatility by swimming breaststroke on Oakland’s 400 medley relay and freestyle on its 200 medley. He led off the victorious 400 free and 200 free relays, the latter in 19.71 again.

Ben Davis matched Bart in his individual exploits. The junior won the 500 free in 4:22.61, a 1-2 finish with Marko Khotynetskyi. Davis added the 200 free in 1:36.66 (another Oakland 1-2 with Danylo Hrebelnyi) and added gold in the mile in 15:23.71. Davis also swam on the winning 800 free relay.

Khotynetskyi won the 200 back, .04 slower than his meet record from last year, 1:43.16. He added the 100 back title in 46.61, unseating reigning champ Dominic Niedzialek of Cleveland State. He was also on four triumphant relays.

Both of Khotnetskyi’s wins came in the nine-race streak for the Grizzlies. Mack Flowers won the 100 fly in 47.42, outkicking Cleveland State’s Colin Martin by three tenths. Also in the streak was Tarek Aboelenin, who won the 200 breast in 1:58.28, rallying from fourth at the 150-yard wall to outtouch four swimmers clustered within .27 seconds.

Cleveland State’s Bob Fick, the men’s freshman of the year, ended the streak by winning the 200 fly in 1:46.39, denying Hrebelnyi. Fick was third in the 100 fly and seventh in the 200 IM. The latter event saw a rare Wisconsin Green Bay 1-2 of Maxwell Boehnlein (1:47.85) and Sebby Smolecki. The 400 IM went to Timmy Kubacki for the second straight year, the reigning freshman of the year going 3:49.80, nearly four seconds quicker than Smolecki. Kubacki was third in the 200 back and 500 free.

Cleveland State got a boost from Matthew Akers, who won the 1-meter and was third in the 3-meter. Illinois Chicago’s Felix LaFortune, though, was voted men’s diver of the meet. He won the 3-meter for the second straight year and finished third in the 1-meter, which he had won last year.

Horizon League Championships Awards

  • Women’s Athlete of the Year: Susan LaGrand, Oakland
  • Women’s Freshman of the Year: Ronja Riihinen, Oakland
  • Women’s Swimmer of the Meet: Anna Liu, Green Bay
  • Women’s Diver of the Meet: Bernadette Turchi, Oakland
  • Women’s Diving Coach of the Year: Larry Albright, Oakland
  • Women’s Swimming Coach of the Year: Pete Hovland, Oakland
  • Men’s Athlete of the Year: Christian Bart, Oakland
  • Men’s Freshman of the Year: Bob Fick, Cleveland State
  • Men’s Swimmer of the Meet: Christian Bart, Oakland
  • Men’s Diver of the Meet: Felix LaFortune, UIC
  • Men’s Diving Coach of the Year: Susan Bromberg, UIC
  • Men’s Swimming Coach of the Year: Eddie Gillie, Green Bay

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