Members of the swim and dive teams count down to the start of the championships on March 19. (Courtesy of Taylor Leone)

The Emory University men’s swim and dive team placed first at the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships from March 16 to 19, while the women’s team took second. The men’s team finished as the runner-up in the last two championships, but were crowned national champions for the first time since 2017. After winning ten consecutive championships, the women’s team finished second for the first time since 2009.

Members of the men’s swim and dive team celebrate after becoming national champions. (Courtesy of Lucas Bumgarner)

Men claim D-III Championship

Both the men and women’s teams set numerous national championship records this year. In the men’s 200 breaststroke, senior Jason Hamilton touched the wall to finish first with a personal best of 1:55.83. Hamilton defended his national title in the 200 breaststroke and became the second fastest man in Division III history behind fellow Eagle and 2020 Olympian Andrew Wilson (17C).

Hamilton reflected fondly on his accomplishment, especially sitting in the history books next to an athlete as accomplished as Wilson.

“Well, [defending my national title] feels good… It’s a weird way to defend something like three years apart,” Hamilton said. “It’s not really how you envision it. To be in a conversation around Andrew [Wilson] is an honor and a big deal.”

Adding to the Eagles’ hardware, the men’s 200 medley relay team of senior Colin LaFave, sophomore Jake Meyer, senior Hwa Min Sim and junior Ryan Soh came in first with a time of 1:27.08. The men’s 800 freestyle relay team had a spectacular swim, with sophomore Logan D’Amore, sophomore Nicholas Goudie, junior Pat Pema and Hamilton setting a new national record of 6:28.69 and taking first place. Individually, Hamilton and Meyer placed third and fifth, respectively, in the men’s 100 breaststroke. 

After watching his teammates perform well during the first two days of the championships, Goudie described his approach to the 800 freestyle relay as confident and prepared.

“I remember just thinking, ‘Alright, tomorrow I’m gonna get up and we’re winning the [800 freestyle] relay,’” Goudie said. “We knew we were going to be in a great position and I just wanted to make sure that we could finish off the race the same way we started it. And it worked out great. We all set it up perfectly, and I was glad I could close it out and see some huge smiles when we got to the wall.”

Junior diver Lucas Bumgarner turned out an admirable performance at the championships as well, placing second and third in the 1-meter and 3-meter competitions with 557.65 and 523.70 points, respectively. 

Members of the women’s swim and dive team celebrate with their runner-up trophy. (Courtesy of Sarah Grace Byers)

Women finish runner-up in championships

In the women’s meet, the 200 medley relay of senior Cailen Chinn, senior Taylor Leone, junior Caroline Maki and senior Zoe Walker earned second place and set a new Emory record by 0.23 seconds with a time of 1:39.89. In the 100 freestyle, Leone and Maki achieved times of 50.25 seconds and 50.45 seconds, placing third and fifth respectively.  

Leone said that after she won the 50 freestyle in 22.72 seconds, nothing could top that feeling. That was before she swam the 400 freestyle relay, the final event on the last day. Chinn, Leone, Maki and Walker not only won the relay, but also broke the Emory record, clocking in at 3:38.38.

Winning the final relay not only cemented the work of the athletes training and preparing for the championships, but also put an exclamation point on an already unforgettable season for both the men and women. 

“When we touched the wall and saw the first place on the scoreboard, the entire Emory side of the stadium erupted,” Leone said. “I saw my teammates crying, our men’s team crying … seeing everyone happy and people coming up to us and saying ‘that race took guts,’ that was my favorite memory, just all of the love and support from that race.” 

Senior Clio Hancock, who placed second in the 200 fly and fourth in the 400 individual medley, was also a recipient of the NCAA Elite 90 Award, which recognizes student-athletes who have achieved success in both academia and athletics. 

“I was really proud of myself because so many times, especially the swim team, we [only] get the chance to showcase all of our hard work in the pool,” Hancock said. “This [award] is cool, because this is a chance for me to showcase my work out of the pool. I was just really proud of myself for it. I think it’s been a long time coming.”

Given that there had been a three-year hiatus since the team’s last NCAA championships appearance, the Eagles returned with built-up vigor and excitement. Leone said part of their motivation and a major factor in their success, particularly for the graduating seniors, came from the swim & dive alumni community. 

The week leading up to the championships, Emory swim and dive alumni wrote letters to the current team about the championships, sharing stories and offering encouraging words. For Leone, hearing and reading the words of those once in their shoes was “incredible.” 

“Our alumni are unbelievable,” said Leone. “They stay in contact with [the swim team] for years out of the sport. People who haven’t swam since the 1960s, alumni that graduated in the 70s … nothing makes me more ready to go than reading those letters.”  

Goudie, Hamilton and Hancock all attributed much of their success at the championships to the fearless mentality head coach Jon Howell, who was awarded the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America National Coach of the Year award for the eighth time. 

“I’ve never seen a good swim or good performance come from a fear of failing,” Howell said. “[Sometimes] the goal is not necessarily to thrive and be our best, but to not mess up … we need to focus less on winning that championship but [more on] putting together a perfect race to support that level of swimming.” 

Goudie said that although it was difficult to shake off nerves, Howell’s coaching philosophy helped quell his anxiety and keep him relaxed as he prepared for races.

“Jon gave us a lot of speeches about how we have been swimming fearlessly all year,” Goudie said. “He rallied us by saying, ‘All [you] need to do is go in there and be as fearless as [you’ve] been, and [you’ll] be fine … Don’t get too excited, and don’t get too sad. You just have to come out here and do what you know how to do and I promise everything else will come after.”

Howell’s pride for his team is evident. In his eyes, the championship win exemplifies all the hard work they have put in throughout the year.  

“I think [the award] is more a recognition of their outstanding work as opposed to a recognition of me,” Howell said. “It’s always nice to be recognized, but more than anything, I always like it when they get recognized … I never feel like they are recognized enough for who they are, how they do it and what they accomplish.”

The men’s team celebrates their championship win by jumping in the pool after the conclusion of the meet. (Courtesy of Eugene Soh)