The Saint Leo University men’s and women’s swimming teams headed to the YMCA Aquatic Center in Orlando on Feb. 15 to compete at their Conference Championship. The event went over four days from Thursday to Sunday and included prelims in the morning and finals in the evening session. Seven women teams and six men teams compete in the Sunshine State Conference that is known for being one of the strongest conferences in the entire NCAA Division II in the sport of swimming.
Both the men’s and the women’s teams were confident before the meet through their national rankings that they received by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA). The women’s team received a No. 22 ranking, while the men’s earned a No. 17 ranking. However, their competition is strong with three other teams being ranked top 20 in the country on the women’s side. On the men’s side the competition is even stronger by having four competing teams ranked in the top 15.
On the first day, Junior Natalia Garriock and the relay teams of the liquid Lions were able to get a good start into the meet. Garriock finished third in the 50 free, while only being a fraction of a second in front of her team mate Freshman Annie Lindstrom, who finished in fourth.
Garriock made her second podium appearance of the day just two events later, when she was part of Saint Leo’s third-place team in the 200 Medley Relay. Sophomore Maftuna Tuhtasinova, Senior Nicole Weber, Garriock, and Lindstrom swam the four relay legs in that order, clocking an NCAA “B” standard time of 1:44.31. The men’s team with Junior Milosz Mikicin, Freshman Henrik Dahrendorff, Junior Hunter Bains, and Freshman Luka Vulic finished fifth, while clocking a NCAA “B” qualifying time of 1:30.23.
“The highlights of conference championship for me was that I absolutely love racing. Conference is a high energy and exciting swim meet that is highly competitive. I thrive in that kind of environment and it is a chance to show off why we swim twenty hours a week,” said Garriock, who is a marketing major.
The second day of the meet continued to be as successful as the first one. Garriock was again able to have a stand-out performance by winning the 100 Butterfly with a NCAA “B” qualifying standard time of 54.71 seconds. Lindstrom was able to earn the third place in this event. Sophomore Sidney Martin swam herself into the final of the 400 Individual Medley, where she finished eighth with a time of 4:35.53. The women’s team continued their hunt for the podium with a third place finish in the 400 Medley Relay. The relay that consisted of Tuhtasinova, Weber, Lindstrom, and Garriock was able to swim a 3:48.56.
On the men’s site it was Bains who stood out. Bains touched the wall in fourth place in the 200 Freestyle with a time of 1:38.28, while Vulic was eighth in a time of 1:39.71. The men’s 400 Individual Medley relay team of Mikicin, Dahrendorff, Bains, and Vulic recorded a third-place time of 3:17.46. Mikicin’s time of 49.01 in the opening 100 Backstroke earned him the NCAA “B” qualifying standard.
The third day did not bring a win, but multiple podium spots for the liquid Lions. It was again Garriock, who was able to stand on the podium for the third day in a row. Garriock had the best Saint Leo performance of the day with her second place finish in the women’s 100 Backstroke, in which she swam a NCAA “B” standard time of 56.73 seconds.
The men’s team performed strong on the third day with Mikicin, who earned a podium spot with his third-place finish after touching the wall in the 100 Backstroke in a time of 48.80 seconds. Dahrendorff also made an appearance on the podium in third place with his showing in the men’s 100 Breaststroke. Dahrendorff, who’s older brother Jan Dahrendorff, is also on the swim team, posted a time of 54.83, reaching the NCAA “B” qualifying mark in the process.
On the last day of the four days of competing it was again the women’s team that wanted to shine. Garriock and Lindstrom both made it to the final of the 100 Freestyle, in which Garriock won and Lindstrom placed fourth. For Garriock, it was the second win of the championship, while scoring more top three results.
In the 200 Breaststroke, Weber was able to place fourth in the final, posting a time of 2:18.25. Shortly after that, Tuhtasinova finished fifth in the 200 Backstroke in a time of 2:03.94. The final event for the Saint Leo Lions was the women’s 400 Free Relay, in which the team placed second. The team of Garriock, Lindstrom, Mattie Shaver, and Olga Britton clocked a time of 3:26.68, which is a big improvement compared to their seed time and marks a school record.
On the men’s side, Bains was the lone Saint Leo swimmer who advanced to an event final on the last day, where he finished fourth in the men’s 100 Freestyle. Bains clocked an NCAA “B” standard time of 44.54, missing third place by just a split second. The men’s 400 Free Relay of Bains, Vulic, Michael Southward, and Christian Cioffi posted a time of 3:01.22 and finished fifth overall.
In the end the women’s team earned a fourth place overall only tailing their nationally ranked competitors from Nova Southeastern, Tampa, and Florida Southern. With their total scored points of 467 they were able to beat the teams of Lynn, Florid Tech, and Rollins. The men’s team, on the other hand was able to earn a fifth spot in the end. Nova Southeastern University and Florida Southern College dominated the championship, followed by Tampa, Florida Tech and the Saint Leo Lions.
“The team performance we had some extreme results, including a lot of highs and lows. However, regardless of their own performances everyone was very supportive and had good energy. On the women’s side we had some really strong relays and for the males we had a couple of really fast times that place them well in the nation,” Garriock said.
The best athletes that earned an “A” or “B” qualifying standard will go to the National Championship Festival in Birmingham, Ala. The event will take place from Mar. 4 to 7 and will include swimming, indoor track & field, and wrestling.