The Wheaton men’s and women’s swim teams have been in the pool for quite some time this year, and they have put together strong team races heading into the holiday break.
Wheaton first hosted the 32nd annual Wheaton Invitational two weekends ago, welcoming five of the nation’s top swimming programs into Chrouser Natatorium, including Hope College (Mich.), Washington University (Mo.), UW-Stevens Point and UW-Whitewater.
Wheaton’s men’s team took third in the five-team meet while the women’s team finished in second place. Overall, Head Coach Jon Lederhouse said he was pleased with the team’s performance.
“As always, the meet provided great competition for our entire team from top to bottom with five very strong NCAA D-III teams,” he said. “I was very pleased with our team finishes this year.”
There were numerous highlights of the afternoon for Lederhouse and his teams, including the strong swimming of a few freshmen on the women’s team. Kirsty Nitz is one such freshman who not only set new personal records in the 200-yard backstroke as well as the relay events but set Thunder program records as well.
Nitz won the 200-back finals with an NCAA selection time of 1:57.31, breaking a program record that she had set earlier in the afternoon in the preliminaries when she swam it in 2:00.94.
Fellow freshman Katie Deysher also broke her personal records in both the 200 and 400 Individual Medley events including a first-place time of 4:30.40 in the 400.
Freshmen on the men’s side also impressed, including Jon Lait, who won both the 200 and 400 IM events, as well as taking second in the 200-yard breast stroke. His winning time of 4:04.89 in the 400-event was good enough for NCAA consideration.
Meanwhile, the Thunder upperclassmen continued to swim well, including junior Carlie Herich on the women’s side and juniors Hayes Wilkerson and Wills Francis for the men. Herich won the 1650-yard freestyle race and took fifth in the 200-yard backstroke and third in the 500-yard freestyle.
“I try and approach each race as a chance to do my best and see what I need to continue to work on in practice,” Herich said. “I just try to relax and have fun — that is when I swim my best.”
Herich added that swimming at the Wheaton Invitational is special.
“It is always such an incredible experience and is always one of my favorite meets of the season since it is at our home pool,” she said. “I was really impressed with how fast everyone swam, and I think we really showed how strong we are going to be at Conference.”
Francis, the defending CCIW Champion in the 100-yard backstroke, took second in both the 100-free and 100-back, finishing just four-hundredths of a second behind Hope’s Nick Hazekamp with a time of 51.31.
Wilkerson and Francis teamed up with junior Tim Walker and senior David Brown in the 200-yard freestyle relay, taking third place, then brought in sophomore Jack Raymond to join Brown, Francis and Walker for the 200-yard medley relay where the team took third.
“This is a super fun meet because we get to taper and shave and see how we are stacking up at this point in the season as well as evaluate what went wrong and see how we can fix it before conference,” Francis said of the Invitational experience. “As a team, I think our coaches would agree that this year we swam at a higher level than we have before, at least in my three years here, and it made me super stoked to see what my teammates can put together at conference and nationals.”
First, the Thunder had to take on a talented Olivet Nazerene program in a dual meet last Saturday, Dec. 8, and both the women’s and men’s teams came out with victories.
The Thunder men eked out a 132-130 victory while the women came out on top 146-111 in their contest. Francis won a pair of events on the men’s side, including the 50-yard freestyle in 21.82 seconds and the 100-yard backstroke in 53.39.
Wilkerson, meanwhile, had a strong meet of his own, winning the 100-free in 48.17 seconds and winning the 200-yard freestyle as well by the narrowest of margins in 1:46.68, just two-hundredths of a second faster than the runner-up.
Wilkerson’s third win of the day came in the 400-yard freestyle as Walker, Brown and Raymond all joined him with the top finish of 3:13.70.
“Our win over Olivet was very encouraging,” Wilkerson said of the victory. “They have a great team and it was a very close meet. I believe that our team is stronger now than it has been in a long time. We have a better chance of winning the conference championship now than we have had in several years, and I know the team is very excited for this.”
Francis agreed. “I think the work ethic on this team is a lot stronger than it has been in years past, and I think a lot of that is due to our senior leadership. Teammates are not afraid to say something if you do not swim up to your potential, whether in practice or meets,” he said.
Wilkerson was named CCIW Swimmer of the Week for his accomplishments against Olivet. Joining him with similar honors was Herich, who earned the same recognition thanks to her two victories as well against Olivet. Herich won the 1000-yard freestyle event in 10:47.46 and won the 200-yard backstroke in 2:10.43 to help the women’s team to victory.
“I think that one of the keys to being successful is how you prepare to swim fast in practice,” Herich said. “I have been very blessed to be able to have the chance to train with some great teammates and coaches who continually encourage me to work hard and to do my best every day at practice.”
Kirsty Nitz once again swam well against Olivet for the women’s team, winning two events of her own in the 100-yard freestyle (52.62) as well as the 200-yard backstroke (2:09.20). Katie Deysher won the 100-yard butterfly in 1:01.70, while junior Chelsey Long won the 200-yard butterfly in 2:23.37 and Sarah Pankratz finished first in the 200-yard freestyle in 1:58.69.
More victories on the men’s side included sophomore Korey Clement winning the 500-yard freestyle (4:50.53) and 1000-yard freestyle (10:02.73), as well as Jon Lait in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:12.86).
The Thunder women are now 2-2 in dual meets while the men are 1-3.
With all eyes focused on the CCIW Championships at the end of the season, Wheaton’s swim teams will seek to improve upon already strong results as they return to the pool after the holiday break.
The next action for the program will be on Jan. 12 at the Quad Meet in Holland, Mich., where they will once again face off against Hope College as well as Kalamazoo (Mich.) and Lake Forest. The CCIW Championships are set for Feb. 14-16 at Wheaton College.
File Photo Credit: Allison Freet
Printed in the December 14, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to email@example.com.