By Matt Myers
The Mars Hill Lions (14-7) rode a huge wave of momentum created by their lady swimmers, who captured seven victories at Friday’s NCAA Div. 2/NAIA swim meet at Steve Lacy Fieldhouse.
The swift performance coupled with a clutch outing for their men culminated in a 234-131 combined victory over a very youthful and exciting Milligan (7-5) team that swam well especially in the men’s bracket. The Lady Lions captured an early momentum that would carry over into to the main 400-meter relay events with victories in the 200 medley relay, the 200 meter freestyle and the 50 freestyle.
Although the early victories propelled the Lions to an advantage they would not relinquish, it was the ladies’ performance in the 400 freestyle relay at meets end that left their head coach, Teddy Guyer, with a sense of confidence in his team and its ability to transform sound preparation into winning results heading into conference and NCAA competition in two weeks.
“It was good to see our ladies perform well late in the relays. This whole team has been really training hard to prepare for NCAA competition,” said a smiling Guyer after Friday’s action. “As the year progresses into national competition, we shift our focus from capturing every victory to stern conditioning, but it is always great to see everyone bounce back and get an overall victory like this late in the year.”
Lena Palo, Maggie Mills and Kelsey Steele all swam well for Mars Hill amidst a performance that merited a 4:21:54 winning time in the 400 freetyle relay; and the men captured key victories in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke to help propel the Lions to the combined victory. The 100 backstroke, an event the Lions won with a 59:79 final time, was dominated largely by All-American Hudson Tucker. The Brookwood, Ala., native posted lap times of 27:16 and 29:42 en route to the victory and afterwards discussed his mindset heading into NCAA swimming.
“At this point the competition only gets tougher, the bar only raises up higher,” said Tucker after the meet. “The physicality of the nation’s best swimmers is definitely something that we are looking to focus on as a team in the coming weeks. Personally, I am just trying to prepare myself mentally for the conditioning that we have to do in order to be ready to compete nationally.”
A pair of Buffs hit “B” qualifying times for the NAIA Championships. Senior Chris Fry found the mark in the 50 freestyle (25.46) as did freshman Brent Crosby in the 100 backstroke (1:02.44).
T.J. Neumann improved an earlier “B” time to an “A” time in the 50 freestyle as he paced the field with a time of 24.59. Neumann also captured the 100 freestyle with a time of 54.32.
Evan Alfano won the 100 breaststroke with a mark of 1:07.82, and Aaron Pigford’s 24.91 was good enough for second in the 50 freestyle.
The Milligan men posted a final time of 3:47:46 to capture victory in the 400 freestyle relay that stood as the nightcap for Friday’s swimming. Cameron Kanter, Pigford, Alfano and T.J. Neumann teamed for the winning effort; their performance coupled with the Lady Buffs’ Hannah Hubbard capturing victory in the 100 freestyle ( 1:03:53) rounded out a solid day for Milligan overall.
Hubbard also finished second in the 200 freestyle (2:19/02).
Milligan skipper Terry Caldwell was pleased in the solid outing from his men as well as the tough performance by his youthful women’s squad.
“I was very proud of how our swimmers came out and performed today, especially with how tiring meets can become coupled with the conditioning we are doing to prepare for conference competition in two weeks,” Caldwell said. “The guys did a superb job, and it was great to see our girls swim solidly and grab a win. Our ladies are young and still gaining patience, but they are definitely stepping up into their future role in our program. I expect very special things for them down the road.”
Mars Hill prevailed 96-82 on the men’s side, winning 138-49 in women’s competition.
Milligan will host Berry and King next Friday, starting at 5 p.m.