Judah Newby | Assistant Sports Editor
The Wheaton Thunder men’s and women’s swimming took part in the annual Wheaton Invite hosted by the Thunder at Chrouser Natatorium last weekend. Wheaton’s women’s team finished second out of five competing schools while the men took third out of five teams. The two-day event took place on the campus of Wheaton College for the 33rd consecutive year, consistently featuring some of the highest competition at the Division-III level. This year’s women’s and men’s fields featured Hope College (Mich.), University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Washington University-St. Louis (Mo.) and the host Thunder.
Head Coach Jon Lederhouse, in his 37th season at the helm of the men’s and women’s swimming programs, noted this year’s field “provided great competition for everyone with five very strong D-III teams” and that he was “very pleased with our team finishes this year.”
Competition began the morning of Friday, Dec. 6 and continued through the late afternoon of Saturday, Dec.7. Friday’s headlines included a strong performance from the Wheaton women in the 200-yard backstroke. Sophomore Kirsty Nitz took top honors in the event, finishing with a first-place time of 2 minutes 1.5 seconds, which is the second-fastest time in the country posted so far this year and has also qualified her to compete at the NCAA Nationals in the event. Senior teammate Jamie Walitsch took third in the same event with a time of 2:05.44 and senior Carlie Herich finished fourth with a time of 2:08.08. Herich’s efforts were particularly impressive considering her recent recovery from pneumonia earlier in November, and she continued to swim strongly with a victory in the 1650-yard freestyle on Saturday. She also posted an NCAA-consideration time for Nationals in the 500-yard freestyle, finishing third in 5:02.30.
Nitz also kept up her winning ways into Saturday, setting a new meet-record in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:50.50. The time was good enough for another qualification in the NCAA Nationals for the event. She also won the 100-yard backstroke — her third event win of the weekend — with a time of 56.15, another national-best and NCAA-qualifying time. Nitz continued to qualify in two more events, and is ranked in the nation’s top-four in each event she swam over the weekend.
Wheaton’s relay team in the 200-yard medley also posted a strong time in one of the more exciting finishes in the weekend. The Thunder’s team of senior Emma Rogers, freshman Erin Bagley, Nitz and junior Kelly Ormond took second to the quartet of Washington University by the slimmest of margins — four hundredths of a second — touching the wall in 1:45.95 while the Bears came in first at 1:45.91. Wheaton showed another terrific relay time in the 400-yard medley, with Rogers, Bagley, sophomore Katie Deysher and Nitz finishing in first place with a varsity and pool record time of 3:51.29. Coach Lederhouse pointed out after the meet that with the results of the weekend, all five of the program records for team relay events are now held by current members of the women’s swimming program.
In addition to performing well in the relay events, freshman Erin Bagley was one of a handful of strong performers among the Thunder freshmen. She placed second in each of the 100-yard breaststroke and 200-yard breaststroke events as well as fourth in the 400-yard individual medley. Her time in the 100-back, 1:04.32, set a new varsity and conference record for the event and is also good enough for NCAA consideration.
The Thunder women were in second place following day one of action with 390 points, behind just Washington University (565.5). The Thunder finished with a two-day score of 786.5, still in second position to meet champion Washington (1057), and well in front of the third through fifth place finishers in Whitewater (542.5), Stevens-Point (497.5) and Hope (437.5).
The Thunder men took third place out of the identical five-team field with a point total of 618. Washington also took first-place team honors on this side with 1031 points, followed by Stevens-Point (704), Wheaton, Hope (514) and Whitewater (475).
Senior Wills Francis was the highlight of the weekend for the men. The captain swam his way to NCAA Division-III Men’s Swimmer of the Week, as was announced Wednesday by CollegeSwimming.com. Francis won the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 50.12 that set a new record by .06 seconds for both Wheaton College and the CCIW. The time qualified him as a B-cut for the NCAA Nationals in the event as well. He also took second place in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 45.92 seconds and also swam legs on the Thunder’s third-place 200-yard freestyle team, the third-place 400-yard medley relay team and the fourth-place 200-yard medley relay team.
Though Francis’ victory in the 100-yard backstroke was the only one of the weekend for the Thudner men, Coach Lederhouse was also impressed by the results from many other swimmers, including senior Devon Van Beek, juniors Elliot Penson and Zach Schoppen, as well as freshmen Jacob Clement and Will McCauley. Van Beek sliced a whole second off his personal-record in the 100-yard breastroke, breaking the sub-minute barrier with a time of 59.33. Penson was just as impressive in the same event, finishing at 57.77 in his time trial after his previous best was 59.0. Meanwhile, Schoppen broke his own personal-best time in the 100-yard butterfly from 2012 by over a second, finishing at 52.95 seconds and earning himself a spot in the event final. Clement also impressed with a full-second shaved off of his PR in the 100-free (47.3), and McCauley put an exclamation point on the impressive weekend for the Thunder swimmers by setting a new varsity- and conference-record in the 1650-yard freestyle with a time of 16:07.19, also putting him as a consideration time for Nationals.
In the 33rd hosting of the Wheaton Invite, both Thunder programs put forward very impressive efforts against some of the highest collegiate competition at the Division-III level, while setting many new individual and program records in the process, not to mention the multiple qualifying times for the NCAA Nationals meet that takes place in March 2014. Both the men’s and women’s programs are next in action after the Christmas break, as they prime themselves to host the Wheaton Quad Meet on the 11th of January at Chrouser Natatorium.