By Matt Bowker
This spring break was one to remember for six members of the men’s swimming and diving team. The College’s 400 freestyle-relay team and 800 free-relay team captured national titles at the 2015 NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships in Shenandoah, Tex., that lasted from Wednesday, March 18, to Saturday, March 22.
In an exhilarating race, the foursome of seniors Brett Pedersen and Brian Perez, junior Joseph Dunn and sophomore Scott Vitable defended their national title in the 400-free relay, while setting a program record with a time of 2:57.85, bringing home the gold for a second straight year.
The race began with Gettysburg College and Denison University vying for the lead in the first two legs of the event, while Vitable and Dunn kept the race within reach for the Lions. Up third for the College was Perez, who swam a team-best time of 44.13 to pull the team closer with just one leg left to go.
“I knew it was going to be extremely close,” Pedersen said. “I remembered what my coach and teammates told me to do, and that was give it everything I had. I wanted to send Brian and myself out with a bang.”
And he did just that. Pedersen, the team’s anchor, dove into the pool, prepared for a frantic finish, then closed the gap and came into the home stretch. Pedersen pulled even with Matthew Veldman of Chicago University as both reached for the wall. When the two looked up, both clocks read “2:57.85.” Both swimmers tapped the wall at the exact same time, making the squads co-national champions.
“When I saw that we won, it was one of the best feelings of my life,” Pedersen said. “There was no better way to end my swimming career. I could not have done it without the guys behind me, screaming at me before I dove in.”
The 400-free team was not the only team to win a national title, however. Pedersen and Vitable had already sealed their place in history with a first-place finish in the 4×800 event. The duo, along with sophomores Ryan Gajdzisz and Jason Ivins, won the event, beating out Kenyon College by two tenths of a second.
After the two titles in 2015, Pedersen now has four national titles to his credit along with two All-American honors.
The Lions brought home two national titles with four relay teams winning All-American honors. Dunn, Perez, Pedersen and junior James Shangle finished fourth in the 4×200 freestyle relay, earning each an All-American status.
In the 2×400 medley relay, senior Aleksander Burzynski, Shangle, Pedersen and Dunn finished seventh, giving Burzynski his own All-American honors. Their time of 1:30.26 set a program record.
In all, the College finished seventh in the nation for the entire championships, marking the program’s sixth-ever top 10 finish. The team’s best finish came in 2014, when the Lions finished sixth.
“In the seasons to come, I am very confident not only in myself, but (that) all my teammates will continue to succeed on such a high level,” Gajdzisz said. “I’m confident that our number of national titles and national champions will continue to increase as the seasons go on.”