Men's swim wins in dramatic fashion, women roll to victory over Whittier

Men's swim wins in dramatic fashion, women roll to victory over Whittier
Ryan Graff
Sports Information

LOS ANGELES — Scoring of swimming and diving meets can be confusing and convoluted as the teams vie for supremacy down the stretch. That was not the case on Saturday afternoon at Taylor Pool, as the Occidental men's and women's teams combined for 12 new all-time top 10 times in program history and swept all eight relays as the women's team trounced Whittier 210-78 and the men found themselves in a winner-take-all final event.

"Going into this meet we talked a lot about how this was our last tune up of sorts before the SCIAC Championship Meet," Occidental head coach Shea Manning said. "We wanted to gain as much information and confidence as possible as we get into our taper and that's exactly what they did."

Heading into the 200-yard freestyle relay, the last of the day's 32 events, the men held onto a mere 123-120 lead. With only nine male swimmers present for the meet, the Poets sent only their A relay team to the blocks to face off against the A, B and C relay teams of the Tiger men to settle the score.

The Tiger A team — comprised of Alex Najarian (Glendale), Jack Sinclair (Alhambra), Will Westwater (Columbus, Ohio) and Kevin Kuwata (Rolling Hills) — swam one of the best events of the day, out-touching Whittier by 3 seconds with a time of 1:28.83 to earn an overall 136-124 victory.

"I could not be more pleased with how the men responded to the challenge today," Manning said. "We lost to Whittier by well over 100 points last year, so to close the gap completely in just a single season is very exciting for our program. It was exactly the kind of boost we were hoping for."

Kuwata's anchor performance on the 200-yard freestyle relay complemented solid finishes in his three other events. With a time of 1:01.22, he earned a commanding six-second victory in the 100-yard breaststroke event in which the Tiger men finished 1-2-3 with a 1:07.31 from Donovan Dennis(Great Falls, Mont.) and a 1:07.68 from Matt Connelly (Trumbull, Conn.). Kuwata was also the anchor on the victorious 200-yard medley relay A team that posted a 1:41.88 and finished second in the 100-yard freestyle with a 49.61. Connelly (2:25.34) and Dennis (2:27.00) were also joined by Hank Franscioni's (Salinas) 2:28.87 in the 200-yard breaststroke to capture their second 1-2-3 finish of the day.

Steven van Deventer (Naperville, Ill.), the only Tiger male swimmer to earn an All-SCIAC selection last season, also had key contributions for the men's side. He swam the second leg on the 200-yard medley relay A team and finished second in the 200-yard freestyle (1:49.73), 500-yard freestyle (5:00.80) and 400-yard individual medley (4:33.57).

Najarian won both the 100-yard (53.04) and 200-yard (1:59.21) butterfly events and picked up a second in the 200-yard backstroke (2:05.33). Westwater swam the first leg of the 200-yard medley relay for the A team and placed second in both the 100-yard backstroke (56.81) and 50-yard freestyle (23.07).

"Overall, we cannot look over anyone's performance," Manning said. "Whenever the meet comes down to the last relay, you know that every individual and every point mattered. Our guys knew they had to be flexible with their events and had to rely on our depth to win. The fact is, we only won six events to Whittier's eight, so this was a total team effort."

The women's team continued its SCIAC dominance, winning all but the 1,650-yard freestyle and 200-yard butterfly on their way to three 1-2 finishes and five 1-2-3 finishes. With a record of 6-2, the women have now secured a school record for conference wins in a single season.

All-American Caroline Chang (Lisle, Ill.) won both the 100-yard (1:07.11) and 200-yard breaststroke (2:29.18) and teamed up with Zoe Namba (Honolulu), Lizzy Kosin (LaGrange Park, Ill.) and Lauren Ransom (Albuquerque, N.M.) on the 200-yard medley relay A team that recorded the second-best time in Occidental history with a 1:51.22. The Tiger women also went 1-2-3 in the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke with Emily Watkins (Palo Alto) and Gabby Hanna (Seattle, Wash.) coming in behind Chang with times of 1:08.90 and 2:35.56 and 1:12.21 and 2:36.63, respectively.

"I almost feel like a broken record when I talk about all the top ten times these women have put up throughout the season, but it is truly a testament to their hard work and dedication to bringing this team to new heights." 

On senior day, Ransom set the tone for the women, winning both the 50-yard (24.91) and 100-yard freestyle (55.07). Fellow senior Alena Morris (Maple Valley, Wash.) and junior Juliet Suess (St. Charles, Ill.) recorded times of 26.28 and 26.20 to round out the 1-2-3 punch for the Occidental women in the 50-yard freestyle and Namba (55.67) and Suess (56.63) joined Ransom in another 1-2-3 finish in the 100-yard freestyle. Namba also won the 100-yard backstroke with a 1:02.69.

Kosin won both the 200-yard (1:59.10) and 500-yard freestyle (5:23.10) as well as the 400-yard individual medley. Suess completed the 1-2 punch with Kosin in the 200-yard freestyle with a 1:59.37. Lauren Poppenhagen (Wellesley, Mass.) won the 200-yard backstroke (2:18.57), finished second in the 100-yard backstroke (1:03.87) and swam the opening leg of the 200-yard medley relay for the B team that had 1-2 finish with the A team.

Yuca Kosugi (Boring, Ore.) won the 100-yard butterfly (1:00.49), finished second in the 200-yard butterfly (2:14.58), third in the 500-yard freestyle (5:32.89) and swam the third leg for 200-yard medley relay B team. Noel Hemphill (Minneapolis, Minn.) finished third in the 1,650-yard freestyle with a personal best of 19:35.28.

All-SCIAC diver Jessica Robson (Elk Grove) completed her second regular season in a row undefeated on both the 1-meter and 3-meter diving events with a 222.9 on the 1-meter board and a 239.7 on the 3-meter board.

"We've had a phenomenal dual meet season, but today was the sharpest we have looked as a total group," Manning said. "It is coming at exactly the right time. We are excited to see how things play out at SCIACs and have the opportunity to go after some lifetime bests and school records."

With the final regular season SCIAC meet in the books, both teams will travel to La Mirada on Feb. 17-19 for the Splash! SCIAC Championships. If they qualify, some individual members will travel to the NCAA Championships in Shenandoah, Texas on March 20-23.