Swimming: CAA Championship goes swimmingly

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COURTESY PHOTO / TRIBE ATHLETICS

William and Mary traveled to Christiansburg, Va. to compete in the Colonial Athletic Association Championships Feb. 19-22. The men won their sixth consecutive CAA championship with a total of 874.5 points while the women earned second place with 626 total points.  

Entering the championships, the 200-medley relay was swept by the Tribe for the fifth year in a row. Senior Colin Demers led the group on the backstroke, finishing with a 21.17 split and breaking his own previous record of 22 seconds. Ahead by almost a second, senior Ian Bidwell dove in on the breaststroke, swimming 24.30. Senior Jack Doherty grew the College’s lead with a jaw-dropping 20.6 butterfly leg while senior Ian Thompson was able to bring the Tribe home with his 19.45 second anchor. The Tribe’s total time of 1:25.52 shattered the CAA championship record, along with the Christiansburg Aquatics Center record.  

In the 800 free relay, the Tribe continued its sweep of the day. Junior Christopher Pfuhl focused on endurance when he spent most of his leg cruising comfortably in second before he overtook his opponent in the final 50, finishing in 1:37.45. Junior Colin Wright continued the lead, finishing his leg in 1:33.96, with the College having a sevensecond lead during the handoff to sophomore Graham Hertweck 

Hertweck, making his CAA championships debut, finished his leg with 1:38.96 before handing off to senior Ben Skopic, who brought it home in 1:37.31. With a time of 6.26.86, the Tribe earned its 10th straight title for the 800 free. 

Entering the second day of the championships, the 500 free resulted in a 1-2 finish for the Tribe. Senior Chris Balbo swam a calm and controlled race, propelling from the back into the lead in 4:29.74. Bidwell followed Balbo closely behind in 4:30.45, taking second overall. Pfuhl took fourth in 4:30.54 — just 0.01 seconds away from a Tribe sweep of the podium.  

In the 200 individual medley, the College set its first record of the night when Skopic, in fifth after the fly leg, propelled into second after the backstroke by a 1.54 second margin. Entering the breaststroke, he closed the gap by 0.9 seconds. Enduring through the freestyle, he moved into the lead at the final turn before taking the event with a record time of 1:45.33. For Skopic, this time served as a National Collegiate Athletic Association provisional cut, as well as being the College’s first win in the event since 2016.  

Wright, likewise, continued the Tribe’s impressive streak when he swam 19.18 in the 50 free — he is now tied for the NCAA lead in the 50 free with defending national champion Ryan Hoffer at California. In the 200 free, Wright led off, swimming 18.98 seconds. Behind him, Thompson split 19.7 for the fastest second leg, followed by Hertweck in 19.93.  

On the anchor, Doherty came up with a massive split, bringing the College a time of 1:17.42. This astonishing time broke the conference, school and pool records, as well as being an NCAA “B” standard time as the 12th fastest in the nation this season.  

Entering the third day, the Tribe started the night with the 400 individual medley. Skopic took the gold with a 3:50.12, the fourth-fastest time in school history. Right behind Skopic was Balbo, who swam a 3:51.07. In the 100, the College kept its winning streak when Doherty swam an NCAA provisional qualifying 47.21 seconds for a Tribe victory. Sophomore Steven Thalblum was sixth with a very close 48.65 seconds.  

Not content with his already impressive performance, Wright won his eighth individual gold in conference-record fashion, swimming 1:35.04 to win the 200 free for the second year in a row. This event was another NCAA provisional qualifier for the Tribe. Likewise making the podium, Pfuhl finished third overall with 1.38.18, followed by freshman John O’Hara with 1.:39.67 in seventh.  

In the 100 breaststroke, Bidwell swam 54.99 seconds in a tie for the 10th fastest race in school history and placing him third overall to earn all-conference honors. Freshman Flynn Crisci swam his second personal best of the day to take fourth in 55.04 seconds. In the 100 backstroke, Demers broke not only his own record, but also the College’s record, the conference record and the meet record despite the fact that he took second place with a time of 46.69 seconds — an NCAA provisional qualifying mark. Senior Lee Bradley was fifth with a time of 49.40 seconds. 

After the fiving break, the Tribe swam the 400-medley relay led off by Demers. Reversing fortunes, he swam the best 100 back split of the field and broke a conference record with his time of 46.43 seconds. Bidwell followed behind, splitting with 54.11 seconds before handing off in second place to Doherty, who returned the Tribe to the lead with a punishing 47.48 butterfly split. Wright, serving as the anchor, split 19.42 and 41.87, two seconds faster than anyone else in order to give the Tribe the gold with a time of 3:09.89.  

Breaking the existing conference, meet and school records set by the Tribe last year, the relay also broke the pool record. Likewise, the event was the Tribe’s 15th straight relay victory and the sixth Tribe win in the 400 medley over the past seven years. For Wright, the win was also notable due to the fact that he is now tied with JMU’s Mark Gabriele ’95 for the CAA’s all-time record in championships with 22 gold medals. He is also the first CAA swimmer in history to win five or more titles all four years of his career. 

In the final day, the Tribe — and Wright — continued its amazing spectacle in the 100 freestyle, where Wright earned the top seed. He swam 42.01 seconds, shattering his own conference, meet and school records and ranking him third in the nation in the 100 free. Doherty likewise swam a lifetime best of his own with 43.33 seconds, earning an NCAA provisional qualifying mark.  

Entering the 1650 free, Balbo capped off his career when he took the gold. In the first third of the race, Balbo kept up his pace, steadily speeding up as the laps increased. In the final 300 yards, he sped up and took the win in 15:32.38. For Balbo, it was the first time that he managed to win this event.  

In the 100 free, Wright picked up his sixth gold of the championships, swimming 42.19 and taking yet another NCAA provisional qualifier. Doherty took second with a lifetime-best 43.39 seconds, the seventh-fastest race ever and likewise an NCAA qualifier. Skopic likewise tied up a bow at the end of his impressive career with his third individual championship, swimming a lifetime best of 1:58.79. 

On the first day, the women began in the lead with a pair of all-conference honors. In the 800 free relay, the team of Junior Megan Bull, sophomore Inez Olszewski, freshman Katie Stevenson and junior Tara Tiernan, brought home a strong Tribe win with 7:15.42. Bull led off for her third time in three years, methodically taking out her competitors and finishing her leg in the lead with 1:47.59. For the College, it was the third-fastest 200 free and gave the Tribe a 2.5 second lead. Olszewski kept up the lead with 1:50.20 before handing off to Stevenson who turned in a 1:48.55 leg while extending the lead to 3.5 seconds. In the final leg, Tiernan turned in 1:49.08, earning the Tribe its second gold in three years in the event.  

Entering the second day of the championships, the women continued their impressive performance. In the 200 free, sophomore Missy Cundiff let things off with a 22.57 showing. Entering the second leg, the Tribe was behind 0.6 seconds, but Stevenson erased the deficit with her 23.11 split, putting the College in a strong lead. Oszewski took her leg with a 23.06, priming sophomore Anna Kenna to charge into the water and emerge the leader of the pack, giving the Tribe a total time of 1:32.36. For Stevenson and Oszewski, this was their second gold — an auspicious sign for their upperclassman potential.  

On Friday of the championships, the Tribe earned an all-conference honor in the 100 back when Kenna swam a lifetime-best 54.58 seconds for second overall, with the seventh fastest race in school history. Sophomore Sonora Baker was able to win the consolation finals for ninth overall in 56.33, while junior Madeline High swam her second final in 57.21 seconds for 14th overall.  

Entering the final day, the College earned its first all-conference honor of the night in the 200 breaststroke when Bull broke her own record, taking second overall. She timed 2:14.6 and was followed by freshman Peyton Proffitt, with eighth overall in 2:19.57. In the 200 butterfly, sophomore Rebecca Rogers earned her first podium finish, timing 2:02.39 to take third overall. Sophomore Gabby Zhang was right behind, stopping the clock in 2:02.87 for fourth overall and freshman Maura Graff took seventh with a time of 2:04.20. 

For the Tribe, the season is now complete, however several members of the squad, including Wright, will begin preparing for the NCAA Championships which will be in Indianapolis, Ind. on March 25-28. Selections for who will be going to the championships will be announced March 11. Though Wright is almost guaranteed to be selected, the College has a few relays that could potentially be cause for other Tribe swimmers to be invited.