Emory’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams returned from the NCAA Division III Championships on March 21-24 with their 11th consecutive and 24th overall team championship trophy and 15 national titles. Capitalizing on their success at the University Athletic Association (UAA) Championships last month, the women’s team continued its national dominance over 60 teams by garnering 603 points, 103 ahead of No. 2 Kenyon College (Ohio), while the men’s team secured second place out of 54 teams with 369.5 points, trailing No. 1 Denison University (Ohio) by 227 points.
From day one, both teams proved their aptitude for the top spot on the podium with a combined total of five national titles and three NCAA DIII records.
Junior Fiona Muir kicked off the women’s national title run, winning her career-first 50-yard freestyle after breaking the DIII record during prelims with a time of 22.48. Following her victory, Muir, alongside junior Meg Taylor and seniors Cindy Cheng and Megan Campbell, broke another NCAA record in the 200-yard medley relay with a time of 1:40.12.
On the men’s side, junior Thomas Gordon stole his first ever national title in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:23.70, almost 1.5 seconds faster than the runner-up. Senior Oliver Smith claimed the 50-yard freestyle for the third consecutive year, joining the ranks of only three other male swimmers to win the 50-yard freestyle thrice in DIII history, including Emory Head Coach Jon Howell (Kenyon, 1988-90). During prelims, Smith broke the NCAA DIII record with a time of 19.37.
“I couldn’t have planned a better ending [to my senior year],” Smith said. “I’d been aiming at that record since I was a freshman at Emory. Back when I started here, aiming at that record was a long shot, but I knew if I worked hard for it, I could get it. Accomplishing that was putting the cherry on top.”
The men rounded out the first day of competition with Emory’s second straight victory in the 200-yard medley relay with a time of 1:27.63 from Smith, sophomore Sage Ono, senior Cooper Tollen and junior Trey Kolleck.
The second day of the meet on March 22 brought out stiffer competition from opponents like Denison and Kenyon, but Emory still acquired three national titles and one school record.
The women expanded their lead to 64 points with steep finishes by Cheng and Muir in the 200-yard freestyle and the foursome of Cheng, Muir, Campbell and junior Hannah Lally in the 400-yard medley relay. Cheng won her first individual national title of the meet, defending her 200-yard freestyle championship title with a time of 1:46.89.
To conclude the evening, the men obtained their third straight title in the 200-yard freestyle relay with Ono, Kolleck, senior Aaron Schwartz and Smith scoring a time of 1:18.61, lagging .04 seconds behind their Emory-record-breaking preliminary time. Ono, Smith, Kolleck and Tollen collected the third relay title for the Eagles in the 400-yard medley with a time of 3:13.97.
The Eagles preserved their respective standings on the third day with record-breaking performances by both teams. Cheng, senior Julia Wawer, Muir and Taylor set a new DIII record in the 800-yard freestyle relay with a time of 7:13.51, while Ono surpassed Emory’s 100-yard backstroke record, claiming a career-first individual title with a time of 47.62. The men’s team cut the race for national runner-up close just 7 points ahead of Kenyon.
On the final day, the Eagles solidified their impressive standings. The women’s team capped off their ever-growing lead with 603 points, brought on by national titles and stellar finishes in the 100-yard freestyle and the 400-yard freestyle relay, to win their ninth consecutive women’s national championship. The men’s team wrapped up the weekend with 369.5 points, 227 points behind Denison, to secure the national runner-up title.
“I think [winning a national championship is] always a great way to end my season,” Cheng said. “Even though some races didn’t go how I wanted them to go, our team is such a close knit family that it made it so much better than I could’ve ever imagined.”
The Eagles celebrated a busy four days on the podium, winning a grand total of 15 national titles across both teams. After the meet, Smith received the title of College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Men’s Swimmer of the Year in the wake of his six national titles and multiple broken records. In addition to the athletes’ accolades, Head Coach Jon Howell earned his seventh CSCAA Women’s Swimming Coach of the Year title.
“This program is more than just the swimmers and divers who are currently in the pool,” Howell said. “It’s a whole culture of people who have really worked very hard to elevate the program during their time here … That’s how this program has developed over the years. Everybody leaves their mark and allows the next group to do something even better.”