2014 NCAA Division II Men's and Women's Swimming and Diving Championships
Mar. 12-15, 2014 (Wednesday-Saturday)
SPIRE Institute – Geneva, Ohio
Ashland University head coach Paul Graham will take 10 swimmers – five men and five women – to the 2014 NCAA Division II national championships at the SPIRE Institute. This is the first time the NCAA Championships have been held at this venue. This is the same pool where the 2014 GLIAC championships were held. At the NCAA Championships, the preliminaries begin each day at 10:30 a.m., and the finals will take place at 6 p.m. The Eagles will have swimmers competing each day.
The AU women were 12th a year ago and the 200 free relay won a national title. That team was led by senior Julie Widmann, who was one of the most decorated swimmers in school history. The Ashland men were 22nd a year ago. Last year's national championships were held in Birmingham, Ala.
The AU men are ranked 17 in the country and the Ashland women are 18th.
The AU men making the trip to nationals are Philipp Sikatzki, Alex Sheil, Sergio Sanchis Peris, Hueston Holder and Greg Walters. The women who will compete at nationals are Hannah Mattar, Kaylyn Murphy, Gabriela Verdugo-Arzaluz, Sara Reidler and Anna Evans.
Sikatzki is the GLIAC men's swimmer of the year and he's the GLIAC men's freshman of the year. He's also a legitimate contender to win a national crown. AU hasn't had a men's swimmer win a national championship since 2007 when Omar Fatallah finished first in the 50 freestyle. The other men to win national titles are David Kalange in 1996 (200 butterfly), Jeff Rogers in 1972 (50 freestyle) and Colin Montgomery in 1970 (50 freestyle).
Sikatzki comes to nationals with the best time in the country in the 100 backstroke (47.10) and the second best time in the 100 butterfly (47.24). In the 100 backstroke, the national record holder, Oscar Pereiro of Bridgeport, is seeded third. Pereiro's national record is 46.99. Grand Valley State sophomore Gianni Ferrero is seeded second (47.76).
Sheil's Last Stand
While Sikatzki is just starting his career, Alex Sheil is near the end of his. A native of Australia, Sheil was 12th in the 200 IM at nationals two years ago. Last spring, he was ninth in the 200 freestyle. Sheil injured his heel toward the end of last season and that put a crimp in his training. This year, he comes to nationals in peak condition. Sheil is seeded ninth in the 200 freestyle (1:37.98) and 10th in the 200 IM (1:49.10).
"My roommate asked me if I was nervous," said Sheil. "Surprisingly, I'm not as nervous as I have been in the past years. It's sort of a celebration for the journey I've had. I've been swimming for 18 years. It's the final meet, the celebration of the gift I've been given and the hard work I've put in over the last 18 years. I'm not nervous because of the finality of it. It's a fitting ending."
World Wide Training Plan
Holder had a unique training plan last week. He was in Nicaragua on a mission trip.
Purple and Gold Mattar
Mattar was third in the 200 breaststroke at last year's national championship event. She goes to the SPIRE seeded second in the 200 breaststroke (2:14.18), third in the 400 IM (4:21.08) and 11th in the 200 butterfly (2:03.24).
Second Time Around
Murphy, a sophomore, is back at nationals for the second consecutive year. Last year she was on the 200 free relay that won the national championship, the 200 medley relay that was fifth and the 400 free relay that was 12th. Murphy is seeded sixth in the 100 freestyle (50.68) and 11th in the 50 freestyle (23.32).
Murphy is expected to see action on several relays again at this meet.
Marching Into March
The swimming season is long and grueling. It starts with practices at the beginning of the school year and culminates with the NCAA Championships in March. It's not easy to navigate that schedule. This year, the Eagles seemed to hit their stride in February at the GLIAC Championships. They appear to be peaking at just the right time.
"We put a lot of work into focusing on the second half," admitted Sheil. "The freshmen and sophomores, I don't want to say they were struggling, but they were getting used to the whole collegiate swimming environment. They came into their own in the second half."
Looking At The Field
Drury is the defending national champion for both the men and women. The Drury men are seeking their ninth consecutive national crown. Florida Southern was second in last year's men's race. For the women, Wayne State was second last year.
Drury is the top-ranked men's team with Florida Southern second, Queens third, Grand Valley State fourth and Wingate fifth. The Drury women are ranked first with Queens second, Wayne State third, Simon Fraser fourth and UC-San Diego fifth.
Close To Home
Ashland is just under two hours from the SPIRE. That's a big change from recent years when the Eagles have had to fly to their Championships destination. This is similar to the years AU hosted nationals in Canton, Ohio.
"We know the hotel, the facility, where we're going to eat because the conference meet was there," noted Sheil. "Everything's going to be similar to conference.
"I think this gives us a sense of confidence, we swam well at the conference and that can carry over into nationals," continued Sheil. "It's one of the better facilities we've raced in for nationals."