Swimmers demonstrate depth in winning meet at Tennessee with only one event champion
Liberty University’s men’s swimming team only won one individual or relay event at this past Saturday’s 2023 University of Tennessee Smokey Invitational, but the Flames featured enough depth to emerge as team champions in the meet, which attracted 17 College Club Swimming (CCS) programs to the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center in Knoxville, Tenn. (CCS) Flames Head Coach Heath Grishaw said the meet shows his swimmers are on target to reach their goals at the March 31-April 2 National Championship meet at Ohio State.
“We had a couple of guys who were just coming off of being sick, which kind of hurt us in the water, but for the most part our guys are sitting right where we want them, and it was good motivation and a marker for some of the guys to see where they are at,” Grishaw said. “A lot of them are about two or three seconds off their best times, which is great for right now, and when it comes to UVA’s meet (on Feb. 25), we’re hoping they’ll be a little closer and then by nationals, we’re going to be seeing some great things.”
The Flames amassed 554 points to outdistance three-time national champion Georgia Tech (423.5), which hosted last year’s meet and finished sixth, one spot behind Liberty, which placed in the top five for the first time in the program’s five-year history. Georgia (325), Virginia (240), and Auburn (202), rounded out the top five, with host Tennessee (60) coming in ninth.
“It was good to swim against Georgia and see what their relays are going to look like,” Grishaw said, noting that the Bulldogs’ top four swimmers carried them. “Our team is much deeper. We had a lot of guys score, which was awesome to see. I think we’re going to be exciting and hopefully we’ll see that show up at nationals as well. We’ve still got 49 days until the first day of nationals. It’s about working day by day and not worrying about what happens next. We’re getting into a different training block now (and) we will wait and see what comes through stringing good practices together.”
At UT, the Flames were paced by sophomore Trent Kolter’s first-place finish in the 100 butterfly in 53.06 seconds and third-place showing in the 100 backstroke in 55.18. He was followed by freshman Jimmy Blackstone (fourth in 54.55) and sophomore Jonah Black (fifth in 54.74) in the 100 fly and by senior Matt Davidson (fourth in 55.69) and junior Johnathan Tonnell (fifth in 56.31) in the 100 back.
Freshman Whitman Brown took second in the 200 freestyle in 1:44.49 seconds, edged by a UVA swimmer in 1:44.17.
Davidson, a three-event national champion last season, also came in third in the 50 free (21.66) while freshman Dillon Delaney finished fourth in the 100 Individual Medley (IM) in 55.72.
Liberty showed its depth in the 200 IM in particular, where it swept the fourth through 10th positions, led by freshman Jonah Rhodenizer (fourth in 2:03.47), Brown (fifth in 2:03.75), and Blackstone (sixth in 2:06.49).
The Flames placed second to Georgia in both the 200 medley and 200 free relays, with the lineup of Davidson, Delaney, Kolter, and Brown in the 200 medley (1:36.89) and Delaney, freshman Max Phillips, Brown, and Davidson in the 200 free (1:28.85).
“Looking at our times across the board for almost everyone, we are sitting in a good spot, though we were hit with some sickness going into this meet and our times show for that,” Grishaw said, noting that team would not use sickness as an excuse. “We need to make sure the guys are making good decisions to stay healthy, eating well, getting off their phones early enough to get adequate sleep, recovering well, and getting past their sicknesses.”
After traveling to Charlottesville, Va., for the Wet Wahoo Invitational at the UVA Aquatic & Fitness Center, Liberty will host a Last Chance Meet at the Liberty Natatorium on March 4.
“That will be the last chance for the guys who don’t have their national qualifying cuts in certain events and also for our six seniors chance to get one last swim in their home pool, in front of their families and friends, as a way to thank them for their time and investment in this team,” Grishaw said. “I am thankful that we get to see my first recruiting class graduate and hopefully go out with a bang at the end of this year.”
That senior class includes team co-captains Davidson, Zach Mallory, and Carter Helsby, as well as Wade Lawrence, a spiritual leader for the Flames, Christian Dilena, and Jay Blasko.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer