By John Wyatt- Sports Section Editor
Centre College’s Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving teams recently returned from the Southern Atlantic Athletic (SAA) Conference Championships, concluding one of the longest athletic seasons at Centre.
The Men’s team finished in second place and the Women’s team came in third. Men finished up the meet with 780 points, coming in just behind first place winner, the Birmingham-Southern University Panthers. Women recorded 652.5 points, falling behind the Rhodes College Lynxes and Birmingham-Southern.
Going into the season, the Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving teams’ goals varied slightly.
“After getting third last year when we were hoping to win, the [Women’s] team took a new approach this year with more of a focus on personal best times and enjoying ourselves in the water as a team together,” senior Hadley Judson said.
“We were determined to remain positive and support each other the whole weekend no matter what happened. The [Men’s] team was hoping to get a third [consecutive] championship but was very aware of how steep the competition was.”
Junior Kirsten Larson shared similar thoughts when assessing the competition.
“Since other teams were larger than us, we didn’t necessarily have a championship title in mind. Our thought process was going in without expectations and showing the competitors that we weren’t going to leave without putting up a fight,” Larson said.
“It was nothing but eagerness, excitement and anticipation going in.”
However, both teams unfortunately encountered some setbacks going in to the final meet.
“Many of us were hit with ‘the plague’ [illness] at the beginning of the weekend, but this didn’t damper the mood. Instead, we used it as a motivating force. Although setbacks can creep up when least expected, we also had to remember that we didn’t work all season to throw the towel in at the end,” Larson said.
Their resilience showed. Several of the swimmers’ individual performances received awards and set new school or conference records.
First-year Noah Martin set the conference and school records for both the 100 and 200 butterfly events and made a NCAA B cut.
First-year Logan Oatman won the 100 and 200 backstroke events and the 500 free event, which set school records in all three events and a conference record in the 200 backstroke event. Oatman also received “Newcomer of the Year” for his performance.
Oatman’s record in the 200 backstroke event ranked him 10th among all NCAA Division III swimmers for that event. His performance indicates his good shot when going on to the NCAA National Championships.
For the Women’s team, junior Kristen Holliday received two NCAA B cuts, set a school record in the 400 individual medley event, and set a conference record in the 200 butterfly event as well.
First-year Sarah Hayhurst also won “Female Diver of the Year” at the championships. Senior Danielle Wahl received “Female Swimmer of the Meet.”
Despite disheartening close defeats, all of the swimmers take solace in the collective individual performances.
“I think we swam very well at the conference,” senior Louis Rodgers said. “The number of new records, NCAA B cuts, and individual champions speak for itself. Although we were not able to beat Birmingham-Southern, we had one of the best meets in the history of this team.”
The celebration of the numerous individual accomplishments was a bonding experience for several members.
“As a [first-year], I have learned that the team is greater than anything that any one individual can accomplish,” Oatman said.
“I would be nothing without the support group of my team. They are everything to me and they share as much as I do. It is a tradition of love that I want to foster in the coming three years.”
Unfortunately, the ending of a season means the departure of seniors who spent their college years putting their blood, sweat, and tears into a program. The team will lose 14 seniors in the graduating Class of 2015 who swam with the program since the beginning.
“The last four years on the team have been awesome. I have had the opportunity to meet and spend time with some incredible people. I am just really thankful and blessed to have had the experience I have had with the team,” senior Spencer Vetter said.
Other seniors share the nostalgia of their final season coming to an end.
“It has been an honor to swim amongst such amazing people for the past four years. While I am sad that my swimming career is over, I will cherish the memories that I have shared with my teammates for the rest of my life,” Rodgers said.
While the prospect of replacing such a large group of experienced and talented veterans is never an easy thing, returning swimmers will continue to build upon the program’s legacy.
“We will be graduating a large class of seniors this year whose leadership and influence is irreplaceable, but I trust the incoming class will continue to bring amazing things to this team and family,” Larson said.
“Although I am happy with my swims at conference, I am far from satisfied. There is still much work to do in the coming three years and I look forward to every second of it,” Oatman said.
Swimming and Diving remains one of Centre’s strongest athletic programs, and it won’t be long until they are back on top.