LOS ANGELES — With 50 yards to go in the NCAA Division III 200-yard breaststroke championship final heat, second-seeded Occidental College swimmer Steven van Deventer (Naperville, Ill.) was still trailing.
But it was all part of his race strategy.
van Deventer, who's known for his closing speed, took his second race of the day out a little slower than his prelim on Saturday morning. Then when he found himself just barely behind Steven's Institute's Simas Jarasunas for the second race in a row with a length of the pool left, he broke the water and made his move.
van Deventer went surging past Jarasunas and hit the wall in 1 minute, 58.6 seconds on Saturday night, becoming the fifth Oxy men's swimmer to win an NCAA Division III national championship in an individual swimming event.
"After the first 50, I think he touched ahead of me," van Deventer said. "And then on the last 50 I brought it home."
It's the second day in a row that "Vandy," as he's referred to on campus, has made a big splash in the Oxy athletics community. On Friday, the sophomore finished third in the 100 breast, earning All-American honors. But on Saturday he topped that mark, joining an even more elite group of Oxy swimmers. His 200 breast time broke the Oxy and SCIAC records and ranks among the top five in NCAA Division III history.
"I just threw my arms up and screamed," van Deventer said, after he saw the board with his named listed first. "It was my final race (of the NCAA Championships) and it's just a wonderful feeling."
A few moments later, he made sure that everyone at the NCAA Championships knew the Tigers were there. When his name was called, as he stood at the top of the podium, van Deventer went through Oxy's signature Io Triumphe yell, along with his teammates Caroline Chang (Lisle, Ill.) and Alexander Najarian (Glendale), and his coaches Shea Manning and Stefanie Capizzi.
"I was screaming Io Triumphe as loud as I could. Caroline, Alex, Stefanie and Shea were doing it too and I'm sure our entire team was doing it back home," van Deventer said.
Manning was impressed by van Deventer's poise and ability to execute.
"The race was masterful. He was completely controlled going out," Manning said. "He said what he was going to do and then went and executed it exactly how he needed to. He was pulling further and further away in that last 25."
van Deventer scored 36 points for Oxy, putting the Tigers in 23rd overall at the meet.
"It's very exciting. It's growth and I think it's going to excite our current team and our prospective student-athletes," Manning said, excited about van Deventer and Najarian's performance's at the NCAA Championships throughout the weekend. "Especially with both of them being underclassmen, they both have a great opportunity to lead the charge and go back and make sure we're building on this phenomenal experience."
van Deventer said numerous good luck text messages he'd gotten from teammates, friends and family letting him know they were watching the live stream, was a huge adrenaline boost. The most special, he said, was knowing that his dad was watching from Zimbabwe at 3 a.m. local time.
van Deventer joins Nino Duccini, Gary Crabtree, Mark Worthen and Kevin Johnson as Oxy's individual swim national champions. Jon Dohring was a national champion for the Oxy men's swimming and diving team in both the one-meter and three-meter diving competitions in 2007.
"I'm just still shivering," van Deventer said. "I'm just soaking it all in right now."
For the Oxy women, Chang finished up her NCAA Championships with a pair of swims. She swam the 200 breast in 2:20.46 in the morning and then finished 10th overall and earned her second All-American honorable mention honor with a 2:20.16 mark on Saturday night.
"She did about as much as she could as far as jumping seeds go and I think it's a great overall experience for her," Manning said. "I know she's ready to readjust and get one last shot as a senior next year."
Chang scored seven points for the Oxy women, putting them in 41st place nationally.