Men’s swimmers out-touch Penn State, UVA for third straight Eastern Regional title at Maryland
Liberty University’s men’s swimming team “three-peated” as College Club Swimming (CCS) Eastern Regional champions on Saturday and Sunday at the University of Maryland, accumulating 716 points to edge swimmer-up Penn State (699) and the University of Virginia (664) in a 16-team field. The host Terrapins finished a distant fourth place with 313 points, followed by Connecticut (167), William & Mary (163), JMU (152), Christopher-Newport (97), Vermont (86), and VCU (38), which rounded out the top 10.
“This was one of the best starts we’ve seen in program history,” Flames fifth-year Head Coach Heath Grishaw said, noting that 20 out of his 29 swimmers scored. “A lot of guys set personal records or were right at them. We had a good amount of people qualify for (CCS) nationals at this meet, not everybody, but this was our first CCS meet of the year and it gave the guys a good boost of confidence. This was our first travel event of the year and to see the energy and the chemistry the guys had as one unit … It’s such a great dynamic having 15 returners and 16 freshmen. We’re outnumbered by freshmen and it’s cool to see the chemistry with such a gap over the years.”
One of those freshmen, Dillon Delaney, returned from having an emergency appendectomy on the second day of school in late August to win the 50 yard breaststroke in 26.1 seconds and 100 breast in 57.74 — both the fastest times in program history — as well as the 100 individual medley (IM) in 53.26. Delaney also swam the breast leg of the Flames’ winning 200 medley in 25.88, following senior Matt Davidson (backstroke in 22.89), sophomore Trent Kolter (butterfly in 23.18), and junior Jonah Rhodenizer (freestyle in 21.67), for a combined first-place finish in 1:33.62.
“It was a big weekend for him,” Grishaw said. “He definitely bounced back quickly.”
Davidson also anchored the Flames’ winning 400 freestyle relay, which shattered the program record set at last spring’s CCS National Championships by nearly two seconds in 3:07.40. He followed Kolter (47.58), sophomore Jimmy Blackstone (47.98), freshman Whittman Brown (47.03) with a 100 split time of 44.81, right off his personal record time.
“He was tired, but he crushed it,” Grishaw said. “He had a great Sunday finals.”
Davidson also placed first in Saturday’s 50 back final in 22.60 and Sunday’s 100 back final in 49.59 and 50 free final in 20.68. He finished fourth in the 100 free in 46.94, one of his four events on Saturday night.
“It was a two-day meet format, so it was similar to nationals, but … we didn’t really get a lot of rest for our finals on Saturday night, which kind of hindered our performances,” Grishaw said. “They threw in a little break on Sunday, and our guys swam lights-out in the finals with some great races. On Saturday night, they ran through the whole final format without a break. Matt Davidson swam all four of his events (the 200 free relay, 50 back, 100 free, and 400 free relay) within 15-20 minutes, and he still swam well, but by the end of that third or fourth event, he was dead. But on Sunday night, they threw in a 15-minute break half-way through the finals and it made all the difference.”
Kolter also won the 100 fly on Sunday in 52.45, followed by Blackstone in 52.97, and freshman Walker Orbke won the 200 back on Saturday in 1:54.45.
Brown finished second to a Penn State swimmer in the 200 free in 1:42.92, close to a team record, and freshman Max Phillipps took second to Davidson in the 50 free in 21.63, edging a PSU swimmer.
Liberty’s 200 free relay team of Rhodenizer, Kolter, Phillipps, and Davidson placed second to UVA and its 400 medley relay of Davidson, Delaney, Kolter, and Phillipps came in third behind UVA and PSU.
Flames freshman Colin Wood took third in the 500 free in 4:54.44 and fourth in the 400 IM in 4:22.63 while Rhodenizer was fourth in the 200 fly in 1:58.68.
Next up, Liberty will travel to Tallahassee, Fla., to compete in the Nov. 11-12 CCS Southern Regional Championships hosted by Florida State, though its finishes will not be factored into the team scores.
“If you go off last year’s nationals, the Southern Region was the strongest,” Grishaw said, noting that the Flames finished fifth behind Purdue (Midwest), Georgia (Southern), Florida State (Southern), and Michigan State (Midwest).
Liberty will then conclude its fall semester of competition on Dec. 3 at the ECU Invitational.
“Between fall and spring, the results are worlds apart,” Grishaw said. “Last year, during the fall semester, we looked head and shoulders above the rest of the teams, but come nationals, other teams got really good. So we never look at the fall season as a marker, except amongst ourselves.”
He said the influx of freshmen on this season’s squad has caused major ripples in the Flames’ relay lineups.
“They are constantly changing, and I have never had to change them this much,” Grishaw said. “We have always had a clear four, but now it’s completely different, which is awesome but it’s definitely eye-opening. It’s really good for our guys to be aware of what the competition is for those relays.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer