Kalamazoo @ Hope

“As long as that rivalry remains within the spirit of competition, it can only spur everyone on.” – Eric Cantona

Earlier this week, the Holland Sentinel ran a cover story on The Rivalry, the nationally-recognized rivalry between the Hope and Calvin men’s basketball teams. On the college basketball court, this rivalry ranks among the most prominent in the college game, sure.

On the pool deck, though, there is nothing that quite compares to the Hope/Kalamazoo rivalry, arguably in all of Division III.

The MIAA as a conference has competed in swimming/diving championships for 40 seasons. 37 of those championships were won by either Hope (12) or Kalamazoo (25). When Kalamazoo broke Hope’s 5 year streak of conference championships in 1996, their captains triumphantly hoisted a banner that proclaimed: “NEVER EVER EVER AGAIN.” Hope has dominated the conference to such a degree, that the last time they finished lower than first or second was before I was born (In 1984-5, when they finished third). Both of these teams are defined by a competitive hunger that drives the other to excel.

It has been 8 years since the Hornets have won a conference title, but this season, the only numbers likely to be on the minds of the Kalamazoo men’s team are 25, and 17.5. These are the point totals they have lost to Hope at their conference meet in the past two seasons, and the dual meet last season was even closer (Hope won by 9). While on the national level, Kalamazoo has risen to a top 5 DIII team, surpassing Hope at NCAA’s for the past few seasons, Hope has still won the head-to-head meets.

This year’s dual between the MIAA juggernauts promises to be another great meet. For Kalamazoo, senior Craig Fleming has raced to some of the quickest times in DIII in the 50, 100, and 200 freestyles, with fellow senior Brian Bazzell not far behind in all three events. Junior Chris Manning has 3 B cuts, and junior Kevin Lodewyk has been producing countless “did he really just do that?” swims for the Hornets this season. The rest of the Hornets have been providing their ever-eager alums with forum chatter, as well.

Hope lost a lot of high-point-swimmers from their 2009-10 squad, but their team is still a force to be reckoned with. Their three-headed, distance-swimming monster—consisting of juniors Andrew Rose and Jeff Shade, and sophomore Josh Grabijas—has been nearly untouchable in conference competition. They have some top-end talent in freshman Jacob Hunt (fly) and sophomore Nick Hazekamp (back), but the depth that the Flying Dutchmen possess in the strokes has proven a challenge for every team in the league to overcome for the last several seasons.

Bluntly put, tonight’s dual meet will come down to strategy. The forums and the nearly-unquestionable silentp meet computations have Kalamazoo winning by just under 30, but I think the numbers don’t fully take into account that the meet is at Hope, and both teams will use this meet to send the other a message. For Kalamazoo, this meet serves as a warning to the three-time defending conference champs, and the rest of the MIAA. Hope, as the underdog even at their home pool, has a chance to assert their dominance over the MIAA with this dual. Even as Kalamazoo has gained on the national level, Hope has held the upper-hand in head-to-head and conference competition, and will do all they can to assert that again tonight.

Having swam for one team in the rivalry (Zoo), while my hometown is host to the other (Hope); I have a pretty unique point-of-view on the competitive swimming rivalry that exists between these two schools. When I was younger, I remember going to watch the conference meet, and seeing this swarm of Kalamazoo swimmers and divers come onto Hope’s pool deck and completely take over the place for the meet. I can tell you that watching those meets, the most memorable races I have ever seen have been between Kalamazoo and Hope. To this day, I still get goosebumps thinking about some of them.

The Holland Sentinel is unlikely to run a story on the swimming/diving rivalry between Hope and Kalamazoo, but I will be there. And I can tell you, the electric atmosphere and result from this meet will set the stage for a conference meet that neither team will soon forget. I’ll be tweeting from the meet—feel free to follow me on Twitter for updates!

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