WILMINGTON, NC (UNCW) -– The number 13, as it turns out, is anything but unlucky for the UNCW men’s swimming and diving team.
Coach Dave Allen’s group captured its 13th consecutive Colonial Athletic Association championship late Saturday by rallying from behind to edge William & Mary, 729.5-721.5, in a dramatic finish at the University of Maryland’s Eppley Recreation Center.
UNCW won the men’s side of the meet with 729.5 points, followed by William & Mary (721.5), Towson (551.5), Delaware (440), Drexel (422) and College of Charleston (335.5). Towson took the women’s title with 858 points, ahead of James Madison (653), William & Mary (462), UNCW (408.5), Delaware (329), Northeastern (325.5), College of Charleston (269) and Drexel (189).
“It was unbelievable, I still can’t believe it happened,” an ecstatic veteran coach Dave Allen said afterward. “We spent so much time this weekend chasing William & Mary that to have it come down to a winner take all in the final event was incredible.
“This one ranks as the best because of so many factors. This team hung together after we lost some key people and a lot of people didn’t think we could do it. This group of swimmers, particularly the seniors, worked hard, found a way and never doubted themselves.”
As in the last 12 seasons, the Seahawks accomplished the feat with superior coaching, excellent individual efforts and overall team depth. The stunning comeback continued a dynasty in the pool that has lasted since the first in the string of titles in 2002.
But it wasn’t easy.
Allen’s men took over first place after the second day of competition, but the Tribe recovered the lead on day three and still led the Seahawks going into the final event of the 29-year event.
After freshman diver Allen Crosby gained significant ground with a bronze medal in the 3-Meter Diving finals, the Seahawks needed a victory in the final event of the championships – the 400 Freestyle Relay – and Alex Labonge, Adam Salzman, Gabe Thran and Joe Gallene delivered in a big way.
Thran got the Seahawks off to a great start, Labonge expanded the lead, and Salzman and Gallene, clad in his orange jammers, brought it home with a meet record time of 2:56.69 as UNCW fended off the Tribe by just eight points in one of the most dramatic finishes in the meet’s history.
It was the third straight year the Seahawks have won the 400-Yard Freestyle Relay, with Thran and Gallene each swimming on the first-place units in 2012 and 2013.
“William & Mary swam and performed so well. They had a quality group of swimmers up there in that last relay and we knew it was going to be tight. Our guys just swam lights-out. Gabe (Thran) got some open water and got a big lead and the other guys took it from there.”
The wild ending capped a day chock full of highlights for the Seahawk swimmers, who were competing for the first time outside of College Park, Md.
The Seahawks went 2-3 in the Men’s 200-Yard Backstroke behind Eric Conrad (1:45.08) and Valterri Halonen (1:45.38), while senior sprinter Rachel Sears came in sixth place in the Women’s 100-Yard Freestyle with a time of 50.79.
UNCW dominated the Men’s 100-Yard Freestyle, finishing second, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh out of eight swimmers in the finals. Thran claimed the silver medal with a 44.41 time in the finals.
Sophomore Jenson Engen won a bronze medal in the Women’s 200-Yard Breaststroke with an NCAA “B” cut time of 2:12.96 and senior Michael Baric finished second in the Men’s 200-Yard Breaststroke with a 1:59.89 time.
“I was extremely pleased with our women finishing fourth,” added Allen. “They did an outstanding job this weekend, and I told them that I thought they did a wonderful job.”
Crosby, a newcomer from Matthews, N.C., was one of the heroes on the day after taking bronze on the 3-Meter board with a score of 353.15.
Allen said: “There’s no question that diving was critical. Our divers scored 89 points for us in this meet. We could not have pulled this off without them. This truly emphasized the importance of diving. It’s a 20-event program and you be better be ready to compete in all 20.”
Final Men’s Team Standings: UNCW, 729.5; William & Mary, 721.5; Towson, 551.5; Delaware, 440; Drexel, 422; College of Charleston, 335.5.
Top UNCW Men’s Scorers: Michael Baric, 52.5; Gabe Thran, 48; Valtteri Halonen, 48; Eric Conrad, 40; Alex Labonge, 40.
Final Women’s Team Standings: Towson, 858; James Madison, 653; William & Mary, 462; UNCW, 408.5; Delaware, 329; Northeastern, 325.5; College of Charleston, 269; Drexel, 189.
Top UNCW Women’s Scorers: Christine Souther, 37.5; Rachel Sears, 37.
CAA Event Champions
-Men’s 50-Yard Freestyle, Joe Gallene, 20.04 (B)
-Men’s 200-Yard Freestyle Relay, Valterri Halonen, Ned Tyler, Gabe Thran, Joe Gallene, 1:19.93
-Men’s 100-Yard Backstroke, Michael Baric, tie, 48.00 (B)
-Men’s 400-Yard Freestyle Relay, Alex Labonge, Adam Salzman, Gabe Thran, Joe Gallene, 2:56.69.
Note: Stephen Coetzer, mentioned below, is a graduate of Laney High in Wilmington.
GREENSBORO, NC (NC State) -– The No. 18 NC State men’s swimming & diving team clinched a second-place finish at the 2014 ACC Championships, as the meet concluded on Saturday at the Greensboro Aquatic Center.
The second-place showing is the squad’s top performance at the conference meet in the Braden Holloway era. Throughout the evening, the Pack claimed six medals and saw five more school records fall. Over the four-day competition, the men’s squad combined to claim 18 medals (7 gold, 7 silver, 4 bronze) in 21 events and saw 15 school records fall.
Virginia Tech claimed the ACC crown with 1,264.5 points. The Wolfpack finished with 1,226 points. North Carolina claimed third overall with 995 points, while Virginia (972) and Florida State (957.5) rounded out the top five.
The evening session began with sophomore Austin Snyder claiming the silver medal in the 1650 freestyle with a time of 15:09.06, while freshman Adam Linker finished in fourth overall as he clocked a 15:09.14.
Stephen Coetzer took home his second medal of the championships with a silver medal performance in the 200 backstroke. The junior bettered his school record time of 1:43.21 during the morning preliminaries with a blazing 1:40.53, before capturing second overall in the finals with a 1:41.21. With the performance, Coetzer automatically qualifies for the NCAA Championships with an NCAA ‘A’ cut. In addition, Michael Camper finished sixth overall with a finals time of 1:43.23.
Simonas Bilis captured his fifth medal of the conference meet, as the native of Lithuania finished with the gold medal in the 100 freestyle with a time of 42.26. Bilis eclipsed the previous school record of 42.69 in the morning preliminaries with a swim timed at 42.25. Boffa claimed the bronze medal in the event with a time of 42.60, while David Williams touched the wall in 42.80 to finish fourth.
In addition, the Pack claimed the top spot in the ‘B’ final, as Soren Dahl (43.69) finished ninth overall, while Andreas Schiellerup and Matt Thomas shared 10th with a time of 43.83. Jason Deana (44.45) and Scott Johnson (44.50) also competed in the same heat, while Barrett Miesfeld finished with a time of 44.60 in the ‘C’ final.
Another school record fell in the 200 breast, as senior Ian Bishop improved his program record mark of 1:58.23 set last season with a top time of 1:56.68 in the morning preliminaries. He returned for the night session to finish eighth overall in the event, touching the wall in 1:57.09.
A product of Irwin, Pa., Christian McCurdy claimed his second gold medal in as many nights with a first place showing in the 200 butterfly. McCurdy won the event and set a new school record with a NCAA automatic qualifying time of 1:41.72, while surpassing his previous record time of 1:44.56. The sophomore’s time also breaks the previous conference record of 1:42.19. John Newell also competed in the event and placed 13th with a finals time of 1:46.28.
NC State closed the meet by capturing its fourth relay title of the championships in the 400 freestyle relay, as the quartet of Bilis, Williams, Schiellerup and Boffa recorded a school record and set the all-time ACC best mark with a time of 2:50.06. The time broke the previous school record of 2:51.29, while breaking the previous ACC mark of 2:51.26.
The Wolfpack relay teams posted strong results throughout the week, as the squad claimed first in four of five relays contested and set the all-time ACC record in the 200 medley relay, 200 free relay and the 400 free relay. In addition, the squad posted school records in each of the five relays contested in the championships.
Up next, the Wolfpack women’s squad will compete in the 2014 NCAA Championships from March 20-22 in Minneapolis, Minn.