Author: Donovan Dennis
The Occidental men’s and women’s swim and dive teams wrapped up a historic season Sunday with the completion of the 2015 SCIAC Swimming and Diving Championships in Whittier, California. Both the men and women placed fifth overall; the women tied their finish from last year and the men moved up two spots from seventh. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps defended their titles, scoring over 1000 points each.
Overall, the senior and first-year classes dominated the meet for the Tigers, putting many points on the board in relays and event finals, which were instrumental to the team’s success.
“I feel like it shows the growth of the program over the past four years,” Emily Watkins (senior) said. “Hopefully it can continue to grow and it carries over into who we can recruit.”
The Tigers got off to a fast start Thursday evening when Matt Weiser (first-year), Steven van Deventer (senior), Alex Najarian (junior) and Will Westwater (junior) teamed up for a third-place finish in the 200 medley relay, tying Redlands in a fast A-final. Najarian, van Deventer, Weiser and Cody Hamane (first-year), combined for fourth in the 800 freestyle relay later that evening. Najarian’s lead-off time of 1:41.29 set a new Occidental 200 freestyle record and contributed to the team’s new 800 freestyle relay record, both of which had gone unbroken since 1977.
“It’s been hard figuring out our four guys on the relays and there has been a lot of back and forth because our depth has been much better than previous years,” Najarian said. “I think the relays were where the good surprises happened and that’s where we were able to sneak ahead of other teams.”
On the other side of the pool in the diving well, the lone diver on the women’s team, Belen Moreno (first-year), scored her first SCIAC Championship points in one and three meter diving, placing 10th and ninth, respectively.
The action heated up again Friday morning with eight Tiger swimmers qualifying for the finals that evening. The distance duo of Rebeca Fernandez (junior) and Rose Seabrook (first-year) each broke the school record in the women’s 500 freestyle and brought home 12th and eighth place finishes. Later that evening, van Deventer took the podium for his first individual event, finishing second in the men’s 200 IM.
Though they made waves Thursday and Friday, the specialty stroke events Saturday and Sunday demonstrated the depth of the Occidental bench. The Tigers earned 17 individual night swims Saturday evening, resulting in jumps from sixth place to fifth place by the end of the night.
In the 400 IM, Lizzy Kosin (junior) squeezed into the A-final, edging out CMS’ Molly Loftus by eight hundredths of a second, bringing home a ninth place finish for the Tigers, while Abby Bailey (senior) added points at 15th. On the men’s side, Weiser added points by placing sixth in the 400 IM, while Najarian and Lashley took fourth and ninth, respectively, in the men’s 100 butterfly.
Oxy dotted the pool during the A and B finals of the women’s 100 breaststroke, which featured four Tiger swimmers. Watkins, Gabby Hanna (senior), Ellie O’Brien (sophomore) and Rachel Wilson (senior) all qualified for evening swims, with Watkins taking home second in 1:05.48, good enough for an NCAA B-cut.
“I think we’ve all been training together really hard this season and I feel like we’ve bonded as a breaststroke unit more than usual,” Hanna said. “Watching my teammates do well really pumps me up, and it was cool to have the opportunity to see them all swim at night. It was a really awesome senior year to be able to say that we all made it back.”
Van Deventer again defended his 100 breaststroke title and set a new SCIAC record in the process, touching in a quick 54.71, good enough for an NCAA B-cut.
Sunday saw numerous standout swims for the Tigers as they defended their fifth-place rankings. Notably, Seabrook, Fernandez and teammate Noel Hemphill (senior)* scraped up some points for the Tigers in the A and B finals of the women’s 1650 freestyle. Following their performance was the powerhouse squad of Hanna, Watkins, O’Brien and Wilson who all qualified for night swims in the 200 breaststroke finals. Hanna led the 200 breaststroke with an eighth place finish. Van Deventer defended his position atop the SCIAC podium, bringing home the gold and an NCAA B-cut for the men’s team in the 200 breaststroke, while in the 200 butterfly Najarian and Lashley finished fifth and 13th, respectively.
In the next several weeks, the team will learn if those swimmers who swam NCAA B-cuts will be invited to the Division III National Championships in Shenandoah, Texas, in March. Van Deventer hopes to return to nationals and is the defending national champion in the 200 breaststroke.
*Noel Hemphill is a staff member of the Occidental Weekly.
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