Let’s break down this exciting meet one race at a time.
800 Freestyle Relay
Women – Hope won this meet last year despite trailing severely going into the last leg. They return all of those ladies to this year’s squad and a repeat could be slightly more than a formality. Calvin, however, may disagree. They sport 5 of the top 7 times in the league going into the meet and using the right combination on the first night could be enough to win the title back.
Men – Kalamazoo has won 15 straight relays at MIAAS and this may be the first loss they’ve seen in 4 years. The loss is likely to come at the hands of favorite Hope College. Hope’s greatest strength is their lack of a weakness. They have 3 very strong legs and several contenders for the 4th spot. With this relay being moved to day 1, picking the right combination of swimmers could become more difficult. To challenge Hope, Kalamazoo will not go down easily. Senior Chris Manning has never been on a losing relay and won’t want to start here. They will need youth to step up. Speaking of youth, Calvin freshman Alex Baumann will be the key to Calvin to upsetting the Kalamazoo-Hope battle.
200 Freestyle Relay
Women – Kalamazoo used their studs to pull off the upset here last year. This was helped, in large part, with their leadoff 23.70 from Taryn Edsall. Taryn is back but brings back only one other team member with her. Calvin got out-touched last year and has more depth than the other teams here. They don’t, however, have a standout swimmer, which is always nice in this relay. Hope, on the other hand, does have a stud in Libby Westrate, who anchored in 22.8 last year. If Hope is close, they should win, but Calvin’s depth will make that difficult.
Men – Olivet put together an NCAA cut at the midseason meet in Kenosha and will want to improve that to make it to Indy. They also feature the best 50 swimmer in the league by three quarters of a second. With the Comets as the favorites, they will be chased by Calvin, Kalamazoo and Hope. The contenders will need to get young stars to step up if they want to pull this year’s upset.
Women – Sarah Sohn won last year. Sarah Sohn is the fastest female going into the meet this year. The runner-up from 2011 is no where to be found. Is Sarah unstoppable? Probably not. Shelby Cloyd is back. She finished 3rd last year despite going out very slowly. Maybe she will change her strategy this year and give Sarah a race. Also in the hunt is newbie Kathryn Wrobel. Kathryn has some time to make up but rookies always surprise people in February and should never be counted out.
Men – 1-2-3 Hope, Hope, Hope. Last year they pulled the trifecta. This year they return all 3 and will each have their own circle seed heat in prelims. To push them is a group from Calvin and a Kalamazoo senior, just like on the ladies’ side. Ross Battoclette, the top returning non-dutchman is back and within striking distance. Also ready to strike is the aforementioned Alex Baumann. The high school 200 standout can move up for this distance and try to break up the Hope trio. Jay Daniels has been well ahead of his pace from last year
Women – Defending champ and MIAA MVP returns in Libby Counsel. She likely won’t be rested as she currently holds the top 100 breastroke time in the nation. Those that can make it interesting are: Audrey Dalrymple – St. Mary’s (2:12 last year and finished 3rd), Erin Holstad – Hope (current top time in MIAA at 2:12 and finished 5th last year) and newcomer Alexi Scott from Calvin has been 2:14.3 this year to show she can step up in clutch situations.
Men – Returning champion and All American in the event, Chris Manning will win this event if he swim it. That isn’t a question. After him, teammate Kevin Lodewyk shouldn’t have a problem returning to his runner-up position from a year ago. After 2nd is where the race really starts. 4 other swimmers have already broken the 2:00 barrier and 6 more are at 2:00. That number means multiple sub-2:00 swimmers are likely sitting out of finals. Several points in the championship race will be gained or lost here. Look for freshmen Georges Aoun (Olivet), Roby Boggs (Kalamazoo), and Daniel Biggs (Alma) to step up and help their teams with early points.
Women – You need to know three names. Libby Westrate (Hope) the #2 50 freestyler all time in MIAA history and Defending Champ, Taryn Edsall (Kalamazoo) the #4 50 freestyler all time in MIAA history and national qualifier last year and Caitlin Lohr (Olivet) the #5 50 freestyler all time in MIAA history. Their lifetime best times are separated by all of .15. Edsall has the best start in the league, hands down while Westrate closes better than anyone in the MIAA. If you’re watching this race, look for Edsall to clearly be in the lead at the 12 ½, Lohr to take charge at the turn and Westrate to charge late.
Men – As mentioned in the 200 free relay write-up, Brian Fiorillo has a lot of distance on the field. What he doesn’t have is a time that qualifies him for NCAAs. The sophomore has made giant leaps this season but will need to squeeze out a bit more to make it to the big show individually. Seniors Patrick Frayer and Mike Harden have put in their time and have each been under the magical 21.00 mark in prior years. Do they have enough to pull the giant upset? On the other end of the experience spectrum, Dylan Shearer enters ranked 4th with his midseason time. With more training by Coach Kathy, Dylan is sure to give the seasoned vets a swim for their money.
400 Medley Relay
Women – Calvin has the most balance here and returns as last year’s champs. The bottom line in this event is that even a semi-rested Libby Counsell is just too much for anyone else to overcome. In fact, Hope has the possibility of outsplitting Calvin in 3 of the 4 legs and still losing. Anchoring for Hope, Libby Westrate could change the outcome however. If they can keep her close, watch out.
Men – Once again Hope is the favorite and it is once again due to their lack of a weakness. Kalamazoo has questions on backstroke they hope to have answers by Mr. Swim-It-All, Chris Manning. Olivet has had their breastroking woes. Calvin will need their leadoff, Andrew Mitchell, to drop from his 53 last season into the low 52s or beyond. If he does that, they have the rest of the legs to give Hope a run. Olivet, meanwhile, has the anchor, in Brian Fiorillo, to reel in the competition should he be given the opportunity. Kalamazoo, with questions on the bookends, is stout in the middle. With enough power from them, they will make Hope nervous.
200 Medley Relay
Women – Kalamazoo’s medley’s are built a little bit more around speed than Calvin’s so despite not having a great shot in the 400, the 200 MR should favor Kalamazoo. The gap between Kate Chamberlin and Libby Counsell will shrink and both Loren Weber and Taryn Edsall, the end of Kalamazoo’s relay, are much stronger in the 50 than 100. If Kalamazoo can stay in the race through the first two legs, they could successfully defend their title. Last year, Libby Westrate sat here and Hope fell to 4th. Will the same result happen this year?
Men – In this relay, Hope isn’t the favorite due to their lack of a weakness. It’s not that they have glaring weaknesses, it’s that the other 3 contenders don’t really have a weakness for Hope to expose. The key leg for Hope will be the butterfly. With their sophomore sensation Jake Hunt being out most of the year for an injury, his power is in question. For both Kalamazoo and Calvin, as with the 400 MR, the key is their backstroke. While Kalamazoo’s leadoff remains in question, both teams will need to stay within striking distance for their star breastrokers to makeup the ground. With Olivet’s anchor and their backstroker being stronger at this distance, they will rely on the breastroke to keep them in the race. If they are able to stay even at the halfway point, it will be hard for anyone to touch before them.
Women – Sarah Sohn hasn’t swum this event yet this year but is the defending champ. She was 4:36 last year and had to come from behind on the freestyle leg to beat Audrey Dalrymple of St. Mary’s. Calvin’s decision in this event is whether to swim Stephie Fox, 4:43 this year and the MIAA’s current top time, in this event or the 200 free, where she also holds the MIAA’s top time. Smart money is on Fox in the 200 though. Calvin’s Rachel Colasurdo was 3rd in the event last year and could easily move up.
Men – Last year it was the battle between Jeff Shade and Kevin Lodewyk that ended with Jeff Shade swimming away from Kevin to win the race. Both swimmers return but it’s a question of whether the swimmers return to the event. Chris Manning was a 4:00 without a finals swim in midseason and it is unknown if he will enter here. Kevin, on the other hand, had his best swim in the 100 fly and he may swim there. Jeff Shade has continually been swimming ahead of his times from last year, which was a great year for him. More freshmen, such as Alec Thurston (Olivet), will shake up the depth of the event and make the competition for Top 8 fierce.
Women – Three girls have eclipsed the 1:00 barrier so far this season. Katie Grue (Kalamazoo), who won it last year, Erin Holstad (Hope), who swam breastroke last year, and Caitlin Lohr (Olivet), who didn’t even final last year. Grue is more of a distance specialist and Lohr is a pure sprinter. The darkhorse in the race might be Rachel Bos of Calvin. Can she challenge the big 3? Kalamazoo also has the top 3 returners in the event from last year (Grue 1st, Weber 8th, Pritkin 9th) and will look to put them all into the big heat.
Men – Look for a 3 man race that could become a 4 man race if Hunt is back on his game. After a 2 year layoff, Matthew Gregory has been surprising the doubters in his comeback. Despite lacking some of the speed of his main competition, he has the best second half in the race. Kevin Lodewyk (likely to swim this) and Mark Rushlow will be his fiercest competition, seeking to ensure his comeback doesn’t have a Disney ending. The depth in this event has continued to be strong and it will take a sub-52 to swim in the top heat at night.
Women – Libby Westrate (Hope) won in 1:54 last year to win, while Stephie Fox (Calvin) was the runner-up in 1:55. Already this year, Fox has been 1:53 to throw down the gauntlet at her rival. If Westrate is within striking distance going into the last wall, Fox will need to watch out. Leading a tight group of swimmers following the top 2 is Christine Lewis (Kalamazoo). Can she hold off this tight grouping or will she fall out and drop into the consolation heat?
Men – There was a poll on the MIAA D3Swimming Forum regarding this very event due to the extreme depth. The “hometown” favorite was Jay Daniels, who turned some heads with his 1:44.0 midseason swim. This outpaced the top returning swimmer in the event, Josh Gabijas. His teammate Andrew Rose, however, would be quick to remind you, with his swimming, rather than his words, that he will be in lane 4 of the final heat on Friday morning. Another name to watch is freshman Dan Biggs of Alma. While the school isn’t one I’ve discussed a lot, he was highly recruited by Kalamazoo and Kenyon coming out of high school and was a great pickup for Coach Hamstra. If he swims this, based on the last few dual meets of the year, he may be the outside smoke to win it.
Women – At 1:03.62, Libby leads all other 100 breastrokers in the country. This race is about her and her victory preparation for Indy. Sneaking under 1:10 at the midseason invite was Alma’s Madison Behmlander. While this won’t put her in victory contention, it does give Alma College a strong contender for a top 3 spot.
Men – 2 of the fastest breastrokers to enter the MIAA came in this past class. Dylan Shearer (Kalamazoo) and Phil Barone (Olivet) both enter the event in different positions. Dylan enjoyed a great midseason meet and will look to build on it. Phil, on the other hand, has been a bit Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. If the right one shows up, watch out. The talent is there. Speaking of a talent and a great midseason, Calvin’s Greg Gorham knocked a second off his MIAA time last year already and is looking for more. More could result in an NCAA appearance or a MIAA victory.
Women – 4th place is the top returner here and it belong to Jacalyn Cordero (Olivet), just .06 ahead of Maria Kieft (Hope) who currently holds the MIAA’s top time. Youth cannot be forgotten with Erika Waugh of Calvin, a freshman who has been 1:01.8 this year, just .54 behind Kieft’s time. After these 3, only a few seconds separate almost the entire remainder of the field. Fighting for the top heat and precious points will make the morning festivities all the more exciting.
Men – Based on returning times, Nicholas Hazekamp of Hope is the clear frontrunner here. If he can repeat last year’s times, it may not be the race we all want to see. At midseason, however, Nick Edgar (Olivet) and Andrew Mitchell (Calvin) proved they may have something to say about that. Mitchell will shoot to continue his impressive drops from last season and Edgar will use his speed to go out in front of Hazekamp and try to hold on.
Women – Sarah Sohn (Hope) is the multiple time defending champion but Alex Stephens (Kalamazoo – Swam 100 Free last season) is the one that holds the top time thus far. Unfortunately for Stephens, it’s only by 2 seconds. That being said, Sohn is still the favorite, the battle is probably for 2nd with Stephens, Shelby Cloyd (Calvin) and newcomer Kathryn Wrobel (Calvin).
Men – Last year, Josh Grabijas won the event and qualified for NCAAs individually. This year he enters trailing by team Jeff Shade. The twosome should have no trouble going 1-2 and if teammate Andrew Rose joins them in the event as well, a 1-2-3 is sure to follow. Outside the top 3, the field is quite close. If Kalamazoo can taper well, despite losing some points to Hope, their depth will be able to keep it close.
Women – Ericka Waugh, a freshman from Calvin, holds the top time by over a second and a half over the highest returning placer from last year, Katie Grue of Kalamazoo. This frosh has to be the favorite. Despite not having a swimmer in the top 2, Hope has a lot of depth here with the next 3 fastest times entering the conference meet.
Men – Based on swimmers returning this season from last year’s meet, Nicholas Hazekamp has a 5 second advantage on the field. Unless there is cramping (please knock on wood now), we have a winner decided. The rest of the field should provide a bit more drama. Most of this drama will come from young swimmers and those entering to pick up “easy points”. Among the freshmen looking to final in their first try, Brandon McShane (Olivet) leads the group. His 1:57 midseason was a bit of a surprise for most so many in the Comets camp are excited to see what he can do after more time in the water.
Women – The top 9 returners are back. That’s right, 9! It’s still Libby Westrate’s race since this is arguably her best distance. Caitlin Lohr was 2nd last year, Edsall 3rd, Weber 4th and Fox 5th. So far this year Fox has been fast enough to have finished 2nd last year and she’s tied with a freshman, Jazmin Johnson (Olivet). After Westrate, this could be the best race of the competition.
Men – With the NCAA Champion graduated, this event may finally be up in the air. The top returner is Patrick Frayer and the fastest midseason swimmer was Brian Fiorillo. Perhaps these two will have a bit of a one year rivalry before Frayer graduates. Not wanting to miss the party and not to be forgotten is Andrew Larson. Despite only having the 10th fastest time of the year thus far, Larson made big leaps last year and looks to add to those this season.
Women – This will once again be the MIAA Record Holder Libby Counsell’s race. After Counsell, St. Mary’s Audrey Dalrymple will look to once again punch her ticket to the big show. She missed out last year but looks to change that this time. She comes in a few seconds slower than Counsell, but by swimming her own race, could have her own mini victory.
Men – Chris Manning will swim this event and Chris Manning will win this event. After Chris, 5 swimmers are separated by just over 2 seconds from their midseason times and vary in experience and success. Leading the pack is freshman Dylan Shearer (Kalamazoo) who will try to hold off more experienced swimmers to help Kalamazoo bring home the 1-2 finish.
Women – Unless Sarah Sohn (Hope) decides to swim this event (unlikely); it appears to be Katie Grue’s to lose. The Kalamazoo senior is well ahead of last year’s pace, a pace that won her the league title. A nice drop may also return her to the National Championships, which has to be her goal. Hollis Williams (Albion) may not be a part of a big team or get the notoriety, but she has a chance to join the top 3 here with a solid performance.
Men – If a freshman is going to win an individual event, it could come in the last individual swimming event. Whether it will happen or not will likely be up to Hope’s Matt Gregory and Kalamazoo’s Kevin Lodewyk. The seniors have never won an MIAA event and this may also be their last chance. Meanwhile, Georges Aoun (Olivet) and Tyler Fisher (Kalamazoo) don’t mind seeing the seniors winless if it means they get to stand atop the podium. Perhaps their inexperience will be a blessing.
400 Freestyle Relay
Women – Hope vs Calvin is quite a rivalry in the MIAA. The 400 FR is always the best relay to have a rivalry unfold. Last year, just .08 decided this rivalry. Hope returns all of those relay participants and Calvin returns 3. The hammer sitting on Hope’s relay in the form of Libby Westrate may prove too much, but Calvin’s youth may be able to keep the finishing order the same as last year, with Calvin winning, even if by the narrowest of margins.
Men – Last year Olivet outtouched Hope for the runner up position in what could be a replay for the title. That being said, Olivet is the favorite in the event if all goes to plan. Looking to derail the plan will be the aforementioned Hope along with teams from Kalamazoo and Calvin. All 4 squads have big question marks on their 4th leg, but with the top 2 teams in the league thus far, Olivet is best prepared to make up for the possibility of a letdown. The most complete team in the race is Calvin, who has the fastest time going into the meet. If Mark Rushlow is back to freshman year form, they may be tough to pass.