|Swimming Dynasty Intact With No. 13|
WILMINGTON, North Carolina – 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