As the masses converged on Art Linkletter Natatorium on March 1 and 2, the opportunity to claim the fame of being the first-ever regional winner in Division III men’s and women’s swimming and diving history hung in the air.
For the first time, a regional format was in play, and Springfield College, the birthplace of basketball, was honored with being the first yet again, this time as the host college for the Regionals.
Springfield entered the weekend with the most qualifying divers for the regional meet, with seven of their nine divers suiting up. The seven did not fail to disappoint for the host Pride.
Junior Jen Thompson dominated for the women, claiming both the one-meter and the three-meter championship, automatically qualifying herself for the NCAA Championships. Thompson used the Regional Championships as her encore after claiming the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Women’s Diver of the Year.
In the one-meter, Thompson outlasted Mckenzie Murdoch of Williams College with a score of 470.30, beating out the 467.10 put up by Murdoch. In the three-meter, Thompson left the field in the dust with a score of 508.00, almost eight points better than runner-up Kaitlyn Linsmayer of Amherst, who finished with a 500.10.
“I’ve worked really hard this season. I’ve done a lot of extra work outside of the pool with my teammates,” Thompson said. “It’s so rewarding to perform as well as I did and be able to go back [to the NCAA Championships].”
While Thompson was dominating the women’s meet, senior Kenny Pancoast put together an equally impressive weekend, grabbing second place in both the one-meter and the three-meter behind Tufts’ Johann Schmidt. In the one-meter, Schmidt, the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Men’s Diver of the Year and reigning Division III National Champion on the one-meter, tallied a score of 543.20, pulling away from Pancoast, who finished with a score of 506.55. In the three-meter, Schmidt had another dominant performance, reeling in a 588.95, once again besting the 549.85 of Pancoast.
With the two second-place finishes, Pancoast will be joining Thompson as the two head to the NCAA Championships.
“Jen and Kenny were fantastic,” said diving coach Peter Avdoulos. “They seemed to be on a mission and nothing was going to stand in their way – especially on their home turf. This was an extremely tough field and they shined bright.”
Although Thompson and Pancoast stole the spotlight, men’s sophomore diver Jack Lewis put forth a very strong performance of his own. In the one-meter, Lewis finished in eighth place with a score of 458.00, and in the three-meter, Lewis finished ninth with a score of 454.70, just .15 points behind eighth-place finisher Mark Idleman of Amherst College.
Despite a strong showing from Lewis, for the second straight year he will have to settle as an alternate for the NCAAs.
“Jack’s experience [finishing as an alternate] shows just how hard it is to advance,” said Avdoulos. “He really just missed one dive out of eleven and hence is on the outside looking in.”
“I would be lying if I said I was completely happy with my performance because there are things you can always improve upon,” said Lewis. “I think I let the pressure get to me a little too much and didn’t perform as well as I would have liked to.”
As the tide turns towards the national stage, Avdoulos is confident that the preparation should be the same.
“Coming off NEWMACs and preparing for this Regional was concerning to me. It’s very difficult to come back so quickly from a major championship meet and repeat at that high level again. We intentionally plan our workouts so that we build and peak,” said Avdoulos. “With the maturity and experience of Kenny and Jen leading the way, I expect that we will do the same as we prepare for the nationals.”
Although Lewis is still on the outside looking in, he continues to prepare, just in case his name is called. “[Being an alternate] was sad for me because my dream is to go to the national stage, but I’m still practicing just in case I do get the chance to go. My motivation for next year has risen even higher.”
The Regionals have been conquered for Thompson and Pancoast, and now it’s time to set their sights even higher.
“I think they are extremely well prepared physically,” remarked Avdoulos. “On the mental side, they are strong and they have set goals for themselves that I know they will be intent on achieving. The training is done. It’s time for the fun.”