Flames swimmers thrive in CCS Eastern Regionals at Liberty Natatorium
Hosting the Collegiate Club Swimming (CCS) Eastern Regional Championships for the first time Saturday and Sunday at the Liberty Natatorium, Liberty University’s men’s swim team surged past Virginia, Penn State, William & Mary, Virginia Tech, JMU, and five other programs to capture the team title.
Junior captain Matt Davidson won all four of his individual events and swam either the lead or anchor lap of four winning relays to pace the Flames to a first-place showing with 819 points, well in front of UVA (676), PSU (412), W&M (396), Virginia Tech (391), and JMU (242).
Even without having a women’s club program, Liberty placed second in the combined team scores, behind only UVA (1,556).
“I’m really proud of the way our freshmen and our upperclassmen swam … and of being able to not only finish first in the men’s competition, but also see us finish second in the combined score without a women’s team,” Liberty Head Coach Heath Grishaw said. “That’s pretty impressive and (a testament to) all of these guys and their hard work.”
Davidson anchored Liberty’s 200 freestyle relay that won in 1:25.02, more than a second faster than Virginia, three seconds ahead of JMU, five seconds in front of teams from Penn State and William & Mary, and seven and nine seconds before the anchormen from Virginia Tech and George Mason touched the wall, respectively.
He followed Flames teammates Jonathan Tonnell, a sophomore, freshman Trent Kolter, and junior Zach Mallory. Liberty’s 400 free relay, featuring Mallory, Kolter, Tonnell, and Davidson, won in 3:09.10.
“This is definitely, at least in my time here, the biggest meet that we’ve hosted here and the biggest meet that I’ve been a part of,” said Davidson, who swam 17 preliminary races and finals over the two-day meet. “It was a lot of fun. This was, for all of us, a mid-season meet, so I was just thinking about winning and seeing how fast I could go while trying to score points for the team. I got very close to my personal bests, which I was not expecting to do, so I was very happy with my performance.”
Davidson (49.49), Tonnell (52.51), and Kolter (52.95) swept the top three places in the 100 backstroke and Davidson (20.75), Tonnell (21.77), and Mallory (21.97) finished 1-2-3 in the 50 free.
Kolter dominated the 200 butterfly, winning by more than 15 seconds in 1:54.38, and edged senior Robert Boehme in the 200 free, 1:44.05-1:45.11, with Mallory finishing fourth in 1:48.66. Kolter also placed second in the 100 fly in 52.10.
“I love the team, and the atmosphere here is great,” said Kolter, who set a new PR in the 200 fly and also earned national qualifying times in the 100 fly and 100 back. “There was a lot of competition out there and that fired me up for this weekend. I was right on my (PR) times and with all of this training, I believe I can push myself harder and get better and faster and stronger.”
Boehme won the 400 individual medley in 4:09.08, edging UVA’s Emmett Hannam (4:09.68), and was a close swimmer-up to Hannam in the 200 IM in 1:55.60. He also led off the winning 800 free relay, followed by Kolter, Mallory, and Davidson, that won in 7:06.82, more than 40 seconds faster than UVA’s second-place team.
Davidson (22.90) and Tonnell (24.17) finished first and third, respectively, in the 50 back and Davidson won the 100 free by more than 2.5 seconds in 44.95, matching his preliminary time.
Davidson swam the lead backstroke leg of the 400 medley relay that won by 10.9 seconds over UVA in 3:30.24, with junior co-captain Carter Helsby swimming the breaststroke, Kolter the fly, and Tonnell the free.
“Our relays were outstanding with great chemistry and that’s a credit to our leadership we have between Carter Helsby and Matt Davidson and Zach Mallory,” Grishaw said. “Those guys kind of spearhead what we’re doing, especially Zach Mallory. He’s really stepped up and brought this team together in some special ways, team bonding-wise, so I’m really proud of them all.”
Boehme also won the 500 free in 4:47.65 and the 1000 free in 9:55.08, with his younger brother, Joey Boehme, placing third in 10:36.17. Liberty junior Wade Lawrence dropped more than 10 seconds from his seeded time to win the 200 back in 2:01.30.
Flames freshman Cairns Edmonson placed second in the 50 breast in 27.96 before Helsby finished third in the 200 breast in 2:12.61. Earlier, Helsby took fourth in the 100 IM in 56.04 and fourth in the 100 breast in 1:00.34 and Mallory placed fourth in the 50 fly in 23.96.
Grishaw has put in a bid for the Liberty Natatorium to host future CCS National Championship meets.
“I loved having a pre-lim/finals championship-style meet here and with how many people were here, the teams, the competition, and then also the fans, the atmosphere was electric,” Grishaw said, crediting meet director Elizabeth Creasy, for keeping it running on schedule. “She was phenomenal. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
He is confident the Flames will stick to their training schedule heading into the spring semester, as they set their sights on the ultimate goal of peaking at the April 8-10 CCS National Championships in Atlanta.
“I think with the leadership, we have ended (the fall semester) on a high note, but it’s something for us not to get comfortable in,” Grishaw said. “Christmas Break and Spring Break really stand in our way and we can get really comfortable, or we can get uncomfortable and train and not waste a day. I think these guys are on the right path and I’m really, really impressed with how they’ve done.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Videos edited by Kylee Ligle/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant