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    December 7, 2022 Greenville, S.C. RSS |

    As a final fall semester “fun” event, Liberty University’s men’s swimming team traveled to East Carolina University in Greenville, S.C., to compete in the Polar Plunge, a 13-team meet that included a few Eastern Region and several Southern Region programs. The Flames, who won their third consecutive Eastern Regional Championship in October and traveled to Florida to swim in the Southern Regional Championships, which they would have dominated had their scores counted, swam circles around the other 12 programs with a total of 795.5 points. They outdistanced second-place North Carolina State (210) as well as UNC Charlotte (194), Old Dominion University (182), Clemson (180), Maryland (177), Duke (169.5), the University of North Carolina (129), host ECU (128), and Appalachian State (89), which rounded out the top 10. Christopher Newport University (87), Wake Forest (47), and Western Carolina (40) also competed.

    Liberty actually also finished first in the combined men’s and women’s team standings — well ahead of of ASU (566), Maryland (565), and UNCW (533.5), among others — without entering a single women’s swimmer.

    “The competition was not very strong, and it was surprising to see how big of a margin we won by when we weren’t even going for scores,” Flames Head Coach Heath Grishaw said. “It was really just an opportunity to get some swims in and allow the guys not to have to worry about any stress. It was a fun meet for the guys to go try events they wouldn’t normally swim and see how they would do. We wanted to make sure we gave everybody opportunities to swim and to travel to a meet and a couple guys swam lifetime bests, just because they hadn’t swum those events in so long.”

    Flames swimmer Matt Davidson (left) takes a break on the pool deck with fellow seniors Christian Dilena and Carter Helsby.

    That included senior Matt Davidson, who competed in the 100 breaststroke for the first time since he swam that event at Jefferson Forest High School, placing 10th out of 28 swimmers in 1:08.17, behind Flames sophomore Colin Wood (second in 1:04.14), freshman Aaron Sandoval (third in 1:04.47), senior Zach Mallory (fifth in 1:05.91), and freshman Max Phillips (seventh in 1:06.61).

    Davidson also won the 100 individual medley (IM) in 55.45 seconds and anchored the fastest of Liberty’s two 200 free relay teams (following Phillips, freshman Whittman Brown, and sophomore Trent Kolter), which finished first in 1:27.98, well ahead its second-place second team of junior Jonathan Tonnell, and freshmen Jonah Rhodenizer, Trey Williams, and Jimmy Blackstone (1:32.15).

    Brown (4:55.98), Rhodenizer (4:59.92), and Black (5:14.87) came in first, second, and fifth, respectively, in the 500 free and Brown also won the 100 free in 48.13, with Kolter taking sixth in 50.52.

    Liberty’s 200 medley relay teams finished first and third, with the quartet of Tonnell, freshman Dillon Delaney, Rhodenizer, and Phillips winning in 1:39.37 and the Flames foursome of Kolter, senior Christian Dilena, Mallory, and Blackstone placing third in 1:41.10.

    Kolter won the 100 butterfly in 54.12 followed by Black (third in 54.48) and Tonnell (fourth in 55.32) before Delaney (24.26) came in third in the 50 fly.

    Wood (56.03), Brown (56.66), and Delaney (57.73) placed second, third, and fourth, respectively, in the 100 backstroke before Mallory (26.62) and Delaney (26.76) took third and fourth, respectively, in the 50 back.

    Blackstone finished fourth in the 50 free in 22.23 and fifth in the 100 IM in 57.35 and Wood also came in fourth in the 50 breast in 29.17. In the 200 free, Benjamin Bizeau finished second in 1:53.61.

    Bizeau also placed third in the 200 IM in 2:08.93, followed by Phillips (fifth in 2:15.51) and Malick Ibela (sixth in 2:16.09), who also placed seventh in the 50 breast (29.94).

    Complete results are available online.

    In preparation for College Club Swimming (CCS) National Championships hosted by Ohio State in Columbus from March 31-April 2, Liberty will compete in three spring semester meets, starting with one Feb. 4 at the University of Tennessee.

    “There is potential that we will host a last-chance meet in early March, instead of going to the meet at Appalachian State,” Grishaw said. “Every meet is going to be prepping for nationals, taking what we’ve been practicing and applying it. The next couple meets will be opportunities to put all of the pieces together and then hopefully, we’ll see the final results at nationals.”

    For now, the Flames are practicing before and after final exams, with most team members remaining in Lynchburg through Dec. 21 and returning on Jan. 3 and training with their club programs in their hometowns between those dates.

    “The guys are ready for Christmas break,” Grishaw said, noting that the majority of the team is in excellent academic standing. “It’s a great group of guys, and we are definitely blessed to have each and every one on the team. They’ve got good heads on their shoulders and they’re looking forward to this break, but they’re definitely motivated to come back. We are encouraging them to get through finals and then we will start pressuring them in the pool again (in January).”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer