Women out in front at NCAC Championship

Allison Fitzgerald  |  Photo by Brett Dunbar
Allison Fitzgerald | Photo by Brett Dunbar

GRANVILLE, Ohio— Sophomores Hannah Rusinko and Allison Fitzgerald and the 400 medley relay squad highlighted day two of the 2018 North Coast Athletic Conference Swimming & Diving Championships. Through seven of 21 events, Denison sits in first place with 695 points.  They lead second-place, Kenyon College by 35 points heading into day three of four.  DePauw and Wooster are tied for third place at 355.5 while Allegheny sits in fifth place with 305 points. 

The night ended on a major high note for Denison fans as the Big Red held off Kenyon at the wall for a victory in the 400 medley relay. The team of Casey Kirby, KT Kustritz, Maddie Hopkins and Mia Chiappe posted a time of 3:44.03, edging the Ladies by .01.  Kenyon jumped out to a two-second lead thanks to Crile Hart's 55.02 100 backstroke.  Kustritz brought DU back to even with a 1:00.76 split in her breaststroke swim.  Hopkins pushed Denison out to a two-second lead after a swift 54.83 split in her 100 fly.  Chiappe held off the hard-charging Hannah Orbach-Mandel down the stretch for the win.  This is Denison's third-straight win in the 400 medley relay and their 14th in NCAC history.

Rusinko opened the individual events with a win in the 500 freestyle.  It was her second career NCAC Championship (200 backstroke in 2017) and Denison's 10th win in the event in conference history. Rusinko dropped 5.28 seconds off her preliminary time to post a winning time of 4:53.10.  Logan Wickman (5:01.30) and Caroline Colville (5:05.92) followed in sixth and seventh place, respectively while Ellen Higdon won the B-Final with a time of 5:07.20.

On the 1-meter board, Fitzgerald became the first DU female diver to win back-to-back titles in the event since Natalie Gibbs in 1987-88.  She won with an 11-dive score of 449.85.  She locked up the event with her highest individual dive score of the finals, a 51.60 on her inward 1 ½ somersault pike (403B).  Emma Weber repeated in second-place with a score of 410.80. Naomi Clayton followed in fourth-place at 399.90.  This marked Denison's 12th win in the 1-meter dive at the NCAC Championship.

Thirteen DU swimmers scored points across the 200 IM and the 50 freestyle events.  In the 200 IM, Kustritz entered as the defending champion but was unseated by Kenyon's Hart who posted the nation's fastest time this season (1:59.70).  Kustritz placed second in 2:02.51 which was nearly two seconds faster than her winning time from 2017.  Bridget Horton logged an all-conference certificate with a third-place 'B' cut time of 2:06.19.  Natalie Zaravella was fourth in 2:06.88 while Kate Mesaros (7th – 2:08.41), Halli Garza (8th – 2:08.44) and Zoe Whelan (9th – 2:11.72) rounded out the A-Final for the Big Red.

In the 50 free, Hopkins dropped 0.29 seconds off her prelim time for a season-best 'B' cut showing of 23.62 to finish second.  Kirby, who finished sixth in the event last year, touched fifth in 23.92.  Chiappe (24.02), Gabriella Nutter (24.06) and Angela Le (24.24) went 10-11-13, respectively in the B-Final.  Jacquelyn Kurkjian (20th – 25.03) and Elle Stevens (22nd – 25.32) rounded out the scoring in the C-Final.

The 200 free relay started off the night and Denison's team of Nutter, Kirby, Hopkins, and Kustritz finished second in 1:33.29.  Denison's season-best performance in the 200 free relay came at the Miami Invitational where they posted a 'B' cut time of 1:33.08.

Last night, DU opened the championship with a runner-up finish in the 800 free relay as Chiappe, Wickman, Rusinko, and Colville ended in 7:31.26.  That was a six-second time drop over Denison's previous season-best posted at Miami.

Denison returns to the Trumbull Aquatics Center on Friday for finals in the 200 medley relay, 400 IM, 100 fly, 200 free, 100 breaststroke and 100 backstroke.