LOS ANGELES — If two-time Olympic gold medalist Sammy Lee was still in the pool for the Occidental College men's swimming and diving team, Saturday's meet with the University of La Verne may have had a different ending.
Not because he's not only the best diver Oxy's ever had and arguably the best Tiger athlete period, but because Oxy would have logged at least some points in the diving portion of the competition on Friday at the Rose Bowl.
Oxy doesn't have any divers competing this year, putting them at a sizable disadvantage to start each meet. Friday it meant beginning 26 points behind the Leopards.
Still the Tigers were in it right up until the end.
Trailing by 13, with a pair of events left, the Tigers needed to finish first, third and fifth in the 100 yard breaststroke, then win the 800 freestyle relay. They accomplished the former, then ran out of steam in the latter, losing the relay and the meet to La Verne 121-108 at Taylor Pool.
"We outswam them, there's no question about it, but we also cannot afford to put no one up in diving," Occidental coach Shea Manning said. "They scored 26 unanswered points on us and that ended up being a difference maker. "
Steven Van Deventer (Naperville, Ill.) did everything he could to help the Tigers overcome the deficit, winning all thee of his races — the 100 butterfly (55.75 seconds), the 400 IM (4 minutes, 24.75 seconds) and the 100 breaststroke (59.98).
The 6-foot-3 freshman's win in the 400 individual medley was the first time he'd ever raced that event.
"Shea talked to me before the meet. I always like to swim the medley relay, but he said I'd have to do three individuals to try to maximize points," Van Deventer said.
"The 400 IM, I've actually never swum it. I've had a lot of practice so he just told me to do my best."
The 100 breast victory for Van Deventer was not only a critical win at a crucial time to give the Tigers hope, but also some revenge for Van Deventer who was able to avenge an earlier season loss to La Verne's Marc Okimura, the runner up.
"He beat me earlier in the season in my first meet," said Van Deventer, referring to the Redlands Pentathlon on Nov. 11, 2011. "So there was kind of some revenge there too."
Oxy had solid performances across the board, just not enough to wipe away La Verne's advantage.
"I can't be more pleased with how we actually swam," Manning said. "There was a lot of really gutsy performances today."
Oxy used a handful of swimmers who usually participate in relays, to stack its chances to scored points in individual events, a strategy coach Shea Manning used to perfection with the women's team in a win over Redlands on Dec. 5. Saturday it put them in a position to win, they just came up a little short.
Oxy's back in Taylor Pool on Monday swimming a non-conference meet against Lewis and Clark at 11 a.m.