ORLANDO – In what can almost be described as a fairy tale ending, first year head coach Ben Hewitt can now celebrate knowing that his Nova Southeastern University men’s and women’s swim teams are now CHAMPIONS! On Sunday night at the Orlando YMCA Aquatic Center, both the men and women captured their respective 2017 Sunshine State Conference titles to close a record-setting performance at the seventh annual conference meet.
“It was a wonderful night for our young people and a seminal weekend for our program,” Hewitt said. “We are so proud and humbled by this honor. I’m most excited for the 45 young men and women who have dedicated themselves to this feeling and it was great to sit back and watch them all enjoy the moment as one. This wasn’t an easy accomplishment and we respect the great competition represented by our conference members. Our team has been #TillStrong all year and we have thought of him through this great moment.”
Nova Southeastern is the only SSC institution to have won both the men’s and women’s conference titles in the same season twice. The Sharks captured both the men’s and women’s championship in 2012 and now in 2017. Florida Southern is the only other SSC teams to combine for both the men’s and women’s titles in the same year, a feat accomplished just last season during the 2016 SSC meet. The NSU women have now won three SSC titles (2012, 2015, 2017) as have the men (2011, 2012, 2017).
Hewitt added, “I want to recognize our seniors who have competed and represented this program with the greatest character as well as my staff who have worked so diligently to help bring this team to this point. We aren’t where we are without them or those who have come before us. I also want to acknowledge all the former alumni and staff who gave this program its start.”
Not only did NSU capture both the men’s and women’s title, but they also earned the top individual awards as well. Courtney DeVeny captured the SSC Female Swimmer of the Meet award. It’s only the second individual conference meet award for NSU. The first was Lauren Chapple in 2013. Franco Lupoli was also named SSC Male Swimmer of the Meet, becoming the fourth NSU male individual to achieve the award. His teammate Thiago Sickert won the award in 2016, while Armin Hornikel (2012) and Jorge Ospina (2011) earned the first two ever distributed. Both individuals scored the highest individual points throughout the four-day event and it is the first time NSU has earned both awards in the same season.
The NSU women’s team dominated the meet from start to finish in route to their third title. The Sharks earned a total of 950.5 points to take top prize, 167.5 points ahead of second-place Tampa (783). It was a bit closer on the men’s side, but the Sharks still rose to the challenge winning their third conference title as well with 895 points. Florida Southern, who trailed NSU by only 54 points, finished second.
Madison Yelle started it off on Sunday night by swimming the fastest conference time this season in the women’s 1,650 freestyle to win the gold medal and Madeline McCloskey won bronze, while on the men’s side, Lupoli and Blake Woodrow finished with the top two men’s times.
In the 100 freestyle, Sydney Panzarino finished second with a provisional qualifying time of 51.04 as did Caroline Oster who finished fifth with a time of 51.77. Thiago Sickert was edged out in the men’s 100 free by only fractions of a second, but finished second with a time of 44.14 and Malique Elder provisionally qualified for nationals by winning the 100 free consolation final with a time of 44.60, his best time in the event this season.
DeVeny and Emma Wahlstrom punched the one-two ticket in the women’s 200 backstroke. DeVeny took the gold with a time of 1:57.94, while Wahlstrom swam a second-place time of 1:59.15. Marco Aldabe grabbed second place in the men’s 200 back with a time of 1:46.01.
As the lone swimmer in the women’s 200 breaststroke A-final, Malin Westman grabbed another gold medal for the Sharks swimming a time of 2:14.24. Anton Lobanov followed with an exciting finish in the men’s 200 breast edging out Florida Southern’s Luis Jasso to win gold. His time of 1:54.24 was yet another NCAA automatic qualifying time and the only one for NSU on Sunday night.
Saving their best performance for last, the women’s 400 freestyle relay quartet of Panzarino, Wahlstrom, Alina Schulhofer and Georgina Allin ripped through the water like true Sharks and swam a winning gold medal time of 3:24.43 to set one of many new SSC swim meet records broken on the night. Sickert, Victor Tarin, Lobanov and Elder later closed out the night with a second place finish in the men’s 400 free relay with a provisional qualifying time 2:57.16.
The Sharks will now wait to hear from the NCAA Championships Committee to determine who will advance on to the NCAA Division II National Championship Swim Meet that will be hosted at the CrossPlex in Birmingham, Ala. March 8-11, 2017.