By Laura Carr
The DU swim and dive teams traveled to neighboring Ohio State University on Nov. 7-8 for a double dual meet against Division I schools OSU and Princeton University.
While both teams fell to their Division I opponents, the Big Red still managed to pump out numerous top five finishes.
Unlike other sports, in which any single match can add up to whether or not a team makes the playoffs, meets against schools like Princeton and OSU do not affect Denison’s chances of reaching conference or nationals in swimming and diving.
In an interview conducted on the day before the meet, head swim coach Gregg Parini said that early season meets against top Division I programs are crucial for the team’s success come conference and nationals.
“It’s all about advancing them, getting the kids to see their swimming in a different light and get exposed to some really fast swimming,” he said. “We are a training-intensive sport, and the conference and national championship are what’s important for us. If you get a chance to compete against an Olympian in a dual meet, you get to Division III nationals, nobody should intimidate you at that point.”
The Division I programs also have the opportunity to improve against Division III schools. “We are always trying to get some off-the-blocks racing experience for our team and the opponent can pretty much be anyone,” OSU men’s swim coach Bill Wadley said. “So why spend a lot of money traveling when we have such great competition nearby?”
Wadley added, “I think having Denison compete against other top swimming programs will only help the athletes see that they can compete with anyone and learn that there is always room to continue to improve. We all improve by competing and seeing others who excel.”
Wadley expressed his appreciation for Parini: “We love our friends at Denison and Coach Gregg [Parini] is a dear friend who does as good a job with young swimmers as anyone in the nation.”
OSU’s men’s team is ranked tenth in the nation among Division I schools, and the Princeton Tigers, who boast a top 10 recruiting class, had won five consecutive Ivy League titles before losing to Harvard last season. In contrast, the OSU women are ranked 15th in the nation, and the Lady Tigers have won 11 of the last 15 Ivy League Championships.
“We’ve had a pretty training-intensive mode since the beginning of the season and we’re really kind of looking at this as a good learning experience for us, going up against two top 20 Division I teams, Ivy League champs, Big 10 contenders,” Parini said.
The men’s team finished out the two days of competition with final scores of 249-96 (OSU) and 262-91 (Princeton). Ohio State came out on top in both competitions, defeating Princeton 209-136.
Division III national record holder Connor Dignan ’15 highlighted the meet for the Big Red with his two third place showings in the 3-meter (354.60) and 1-meter (313) springboard dives. Dignan finished behind OSU divers Stephen Romanik and Shane Miszkiel in both competitions.
Miszkiel is the Canadian Junior National record holder on the 1-meter board, a two-time Big Ten champion, as well as an All-American, while Romanik, a freshman at OSU, has qualified for multiple USA Junior National and age-group championships. He also won back-to-back state championships as a high school diver for Nordonia High School in Macedonia, Ohio in 2013 and 2014.
This finish was a good sign for Dignan, who hopes to qualify for the United States National Team.
“Going against the OSU and Princeton divers is a great way to strive for success in a very competitive circumstance,” he said. “Most of the divers at this meet either are, or are striving to make the U.S. National Team.”
Dignan continued, “I am decently happy with my performance this weekend. I was able to be competitive and hold my own amongst some of the best divers in the nation. With that said, I am walking away from this weekend happy, but not satisfied. There is always something to work on and always something that can be improved.”
Stuart Hohm ’18 posted two top five individual finishes for the men’s team in the 500-yard freestyle and the 1650-yard freestyle (fifth place, 16:07.80). He also teamed up with with Ryan Fleming ’16, Conrad Wuorinen ’16 and Alec Carlson ’18 to finish fourth in the 200-freestyle relay. Hohm’s runner-up time of 4:37.29 in the 500-yard freestyle was just over a second behind Princeton junior Teo D’Alessandro’s winning time of 4:35.99.
“I’m performing really well this season but I also don’t want to overestimate what I think I’m going to do later in the season,” Hohm said. “I am way ahead of where I was in high school at this time last year.”
Wuorinen swam fifth in the 50-yard free with a time of 21.22 seconds, while Fleming finished fourth in the 100-yard free with his time of 46.28. Gus Evans ’17 swam to a fourth place finish in the 200-yard breaststroke in 2:08.29. The 400-free relay team of Carlson, Wuorinen, Max Howes ’17 and Fleming concluded the meet with a third place finish and a time of 3:05.59.
Meanwhile, the women’s team posted six top-five swims at the meet, despite falling to both opponents with scores of 251-93 (OSU) and 284-69 (Princeton). The OSU women won both competitions to improve to 8-0 for dual meets this season.
Campbell Costley ’17 improved upon her seed time in the 500-yard freestyle to swim away with a third place finish in 5:04.93. The winner of that race, Lindsey Clary of OSU, is a member of the U.S. Junior National team, and qualified for the Division I championships in three events as a freshman last season.
“I particularly like racing Division I opponents because it shows me how much work I still need to do,” Costley said. “I swim my best races with someone pushing me the entire race and Division I competition never fails to deliver fast, fast swimmers.”
The sophomore also contributed to the Big Red’s second place showing in the 400-yard free relay, along with teammates Carolyn Kane ’17, Rima Jurjus ’15 and Ashley Yearwood ’16. The DU ‘B’ team of Molly Willingham ’15, Maggie Pyett ’18, Elizabeth Kane ’17 and Katie Krivacs ’18 finished fourth in the same race.
Taylor Lifka ’17, Pyett, Willingham and Michelle Howell ’15 placed fifth in the 200-free relay (1:39.43). The 400-medley relay team of Kane, Marissa Bednarek ’16, Yearwood and Willingham, and the 200-medley team of Kane, Bednarek, Yearwood and Jurjus, both finished in fifth. Ellen Higdon ’18 finished in fourth in the 200-breaststroke (2:28.54) to round out the top finishes for DU.
“I thought the meet against OSU and Princeton was important for our team because it gave us fast competition to go up against,” Kane said.
Sarah Lopez ’17 paced the female divers with dual eighth place finishes on the 1-meter and 3-meter boards.
Diving coach Russell Bertram lauded his trainees for their performances this past weekend. “The Denison Divers did a great job this weekend against some of the best talent in the country,” he said. “It’s early in the season and we’re certainly not in our best shape but all the work we’ve put in so far is starting to show. I think we’re on track for a very exciting season.”
Parini stressed the importance of creating a difficult schedule made up of road meets and home meets in order to condition the teams for post-season competition.
“It’s a lot for us, but its purposeful and intentional adversity—a good challenge to see what we’re capable of,” Parini said. “The implications are long term for us, in terms of what this means for us. It’s only relevant in terms of the standpoint of what we can learn and take from the experience of going against faster kids and better teams. We have more to gain from swimming and diving against these kinds of teams.”
This year’s schedule will also include home meets against Division I schools Ohio University and University of Pittsburgh, while the men will face OSU once more. The Big Red opened the season at Division I Michigan State University, where they competed in the first outdoor meet in Parini’s 28 years as Denison’s swim coach.
Parini also said that he is hoping to attract attention from West Coast Division I powers such as the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University in seasons to come.
“We are always looking to upgrade our schedule, we’re always looking to try to take on the best competition we can, and if we can lock horns with a major Division I program, we’ll do it.”
The team will return to the pool on Nov. 15 when they host conference rival Kenyon College.
Photo courtesy Allie Vugrincic