Men’s swimming glides into CAA championship, women’s secures runner-up

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JAMIE HOLT / THE FLAT HAT

William and Mary traveled to compete in the Colonial Athletic Association Championship from Feb. 20-23. The men came out of the championship on top with 925.5 total points while the women earned second place.

Starting out the tournament, the Tribe shattered expectations in the 200 medley relay, for which they were seeded third. Junior Collin Demers achieved a school-record split of 22.20, breaking the 22.29 record previously set by Will Manion ’16 in 2015. Sophomore Devin McNulty boosted the Tribe’s lead a full second on the breaststroke leg. On the fly leg, junior Jack Doherty contested with Towson’s All-American Jack Saunderson, before junior Ian Thompson brought the College to victory with a 19.57 on the freestyle leg, stopping the clock at 1:26.71 – shattering the Tribe’s previous school record of 1:27.43 set in 2014.

The women likewise set out to impress with their performance in the 200 medley. Starting for the College, freshman Anna Kenna swam a freshman-record 25.65 on the lead-off 50 back split, breaking the rookie record set by Sophie Rittenhouse ’17 in 2014. Handing off to freshman Ellie Henry, she was able to finish her breaststroke split of 28.12 before handing off to senior Katie Sell. Sell finished the fly leg with 24.34 – the fastest split in the field. Senior Annie Miller finished the free stretch with a 22.39 split, bringing the Tribe to second place with 1:40.50, just 0.07 away from improving their record.

Finishing in second again, the team of sophomore Megan Bull, sophomore Tara Tiernan, senior Morgan Smith, and senior Maria Oceguera finished the 800 free relay in 7:15.45. Bull handed off to Tiernan at 1:46.89, shattering the previous record set by Katie Radloff ’10 at the 2009 CAA Championships. Tiernan split at 1:50.12, keeping the Tribe in the lead before handing off to Smith. Smith went 1:49.74 and Oceguera finished with a 1:49.

For the men’s 800 free, junior Ben Skopic was able to make his split in 1:37.90 in what was the eighth-fastest performance in school history. Following Skopic was junior Colin Wright, who demolished his split in 1:36.55, the second-fastest leg in the race. Senior Carter Kale maintained the lead with 1:49 followed by senior Eric Grimes with 1:36.98. The four combined for a 6:31.47, helping to win their ninth championship in a row.

In the 500 free, all five men that the Tribe put forward were able to advance to the day one A Finals, with sophomore Christoper Pfuhl finishing 4:27.28, improving him to the sixth all-time among Tribe athletes. Junior Chris Balbo and senior Carter Kale tied for third having touched the wall simultaneously in 4:27.71. For Balbo, this was a lifetime-best. In the 200 individual medley, Spokic was second overall with 1:48.38, just ahead of sophomore Jake Kealy at 1:49.39. In the 50 free, Wright and Doherty stole the show with 19.66 and 19.88 respectively.

Advancing all six entrants into the finals, the women excelled in the 500 free. Bull was seeded second overall after having swum 4:48.25, the second fastest time in school history. Smith swam 4:55:37, taking fifth and followed closely by Oceguera’s 4:55.48 and Tiernan’s 4:55.52.

Entering Day One’s finals, senior Kale was able to make a run for the 500 free, but ultimately ended with second place with 4:25.55, giving Kale his second-straight silver in the event. Right behind Kale was Balbo, taking third with his lifetime-best 4:26.39, earning him his first all-conference performance in the event. In the 200 individual medley, Skopic was able to improve on his own time and break his own record with 1:46.20 – with this, he earned all-conference honors and was a National Collegiate Athletic Association provisional qualifier. In the 50 free, Wright became the fastest man in conference history, touching the wall in 19.57 seconds and winning his third-straight championship.

COURTESY IMAGE/TRIBE ATHLETICS

Bull was able to take the 500 free for the women, finishing with a 4:44.62, improving over time in the qualifiers. As an NCAA provisional qualifier, it was the first back-to-back championshiop for the Tribe since Jaimie Miller ’17 swept to 50 and 100 free in 2016 and 2017.

Continuing their trend of excellence, the men succeeded in sweeping Friday morning and moving to the top of the leaderboard with 492 points. In the 400 individual medley, Balbo, the 2017 champion of the event, finished in first again with a 3:54.35, followed closely by Kale and Skopic with 3:54.51 and 3:57.41. The 100 fly was likewise exciting in that Doherty was able to break the school record with 46.78, followed by Thompson with 48.27 and redshirt senior Evan Baker with 48.69. In the 200 free, the College completed a 1-2-3 sweep when Wright led a lifetime-best performance of 1:36.96, followed by Pfuhl’s 1:38.03, and Grimes’s 1:38.36.

For the women, junior Julia Bland swam a lifetime best 4:22 in the 400 individual medley, qualifying for the finals and ranking her sixth all-time among athletes. Smith and freshman Gabby Zhang followed closely behind with 4:25.37 and 4:27.15 respectively.

In the 100 breast, McNulty and senior Brooks Peterson were able to surpass their lifetime bests to finish with 54.71 and 55.12 respectively to earn second and third places. Finally, in the 100 back, the Tribe was able to seal in the first two places thanks to the efforts of Demers and Kealy who were able to finish in 48.13 and 48.83 to become third and fifth all-time at the College.

In the 200 free, Bull was able to advance to the championship finals for the 200 free, finishing second with 1:48.39 with the seventh-fastest time in school history. She had previously broken the Tribe’s longstanding record in the event with a 1:46.89 lead-off split on the 800 free relay.

Continuing on Friday night, the men were able to make yet another 1-2-3 sweep when they took the 400 individual medley. Skopic became the champion when he finished with a 3:49.71 in what was the third-fastest race in school history. Balbo and Kale swam 3:54.51 and 3:57.41 for the second and third places. In the 100 fly, Doherty took second with 46.99 – the second fastest time in school history – earning him all-conference honors.

Bland led the way for the women in the 400 individual medley, finishing with a lifetime-best 4:20.43 for second overall – improving her to fourth all-time among athletes.

In the 200 free, the Tribe was able to sweep the podium with Wright, Pfuhl and Grimes taking the event with 1:36.10, 1:37.38, and 1:37.92 respectively. For Wright, this was his fourth gold medal and an NCAA provisional qualifier. McNulty tied for second overall in the 100 breast, swimming just 0.01 seconds behind the champion and ranking him second all-time at W&M. Demers won his first individual championship becoming the first Tribe athlete to take the 100 back since 2014. He completed the event with a 48.04.

Bull was able to finish second overall in the 200 free with a 1:48.15, earning her third all-conference award of the week. In their final event, the Tribe finished third overall in the 400 medley relay. Kenna led off with 55.79 seconds, before handing off to junior Laura Freeman who split 1:03.18 on the breaststroke leg. Oceguera swam the fly leg in 54.50 before Bull brought the team back home with a 50.27 split in the 100 free. Having been the fifth-fastest race ever at the College, this quartet earned All-CAA honors in the 400 medley relay for the first time since 2017.

Saturday was likewise a successful day for the men, as Kealy swam his season-fast 1:45.42 to take the top spot in the 200 back, leading a Tribe sweep for the top three places. Junior Lee Bradley and senior Joey Rento earned 1:46.98 and 1:48.39 respectively. Having excelled in the 50 free, Wright replicated his success in the 100 free, taking it with 42.95 and earning the CAA league record, previously held by Old Dominion’s Sidni Hoxha.

Freshman Sonora Baker, who had successful in her backstroke events, earned third with her lifetime-best of 1:59.42 – lifting her to fourth all-time among Tribe athletes. Oceguera likewise looked to take the CAA title in the 200 fly after finishing in 2:01.67.

In the 1,650 free, the College was able to take the top two places – Kale, followed closely by Balbo, finished the event in 15:22.91 and 16:26.43 respectively. Wright was able to shine similarly in the 100 free, earning a 42.63. As one of the top-25 in the country in the 100 free, Wright is likely to get invited to the NCAAs, and should he be invited he’d be the first to make the national meet since Shawn McLane ’86 qualified in 1985 and 1986.

For the women, Bull earned second in the 1,650 free with a lifetime-best of 16:45.55, ranking third in school history in the mile swim. Tiernan took second in the 200 back, having swum a lifetime best of 1:59.53, earning conference honors.

In the 200 fly, Oceguera successfully seized the title with a time of 2:00.18, winning an individual CAA gold medal for the first time, ending her career on a high note. Having been fifth at the 100-yard mark, she closed in on her opponents and earned first by a second and a half.

Likewise, having seen great improvements, Peterson finished his senior career with a gold in the 200 breast. At first turn, he was last but in the last 50 yards, he kept improving until he was able to take the race for the College with a 1:59.70.

The men and women will next compete at the Eastern College Athletic Conference in Annapolis, Maryland from March 1-3.