From March 9–12, SFU’s swimming team competed in the NCAA Division II Championships. A number of SFU swimmers did very well individually and the team as a whole finished 10th — their best finish ever in the NCAA.
“Very well,” said Head Coach Liam Donnelly on his team’s performance. “It’s always a little tough to say how exactly things are going to unfold before you head in there. But our goal is to always improve and compete. I think we clearly did that, and we rewrote the record books a little bit on our team records. ”
Perhaps the standout performance of the championships was Mackenzie Hamill. He won the 1,650 yards freestyle second SFU swimmer, male or female, to win an NCAA national title. The first came back in 2013, when Mariya Chekanovych won the 100 and 200 yard breaststroke.
“For anybody to win a national title is impressive, freshman or non-freshman. I don’t think that was necessarily his absolute mission at this competition. It was going in there to be successful every time he touched the water.
“He was the seventh seed in the event, so he wasn’t necessarily expected to come through with the win, but we knew anything’s possible at these. It’s a tightly contested meet. Sometimes one arm’s length from first to 16th [can decide things]. So it’s a great accomplishment for him.”
Adrian Vanderhelm also had an extremely strong performance at the national championships. He finished third in the 200 yard freestyle while breaking an SFU record, and also finished third in the 500 yard freestyle, and in that race, finished with the fifth fastest time in Division II history. All of this going against some top notch performance.
“For him, outstanding” said Donnelly on VanderHelm’s performance. “To go the fifth in the history of NCAA in the 500 free [is remarkable]. It just happens that he’s up against some really tough competition. The guy who won is is a Dutch Olympian, top 20 in the world. Second place was Victor Poliakov, a Russian guy who’s had years of national team experience. So it’s a fantastic opportunity for him, but it makes it very challenging to win those events.”
With the season over, VanderHelm and others will set their sights on the Olympic trials for the 2016 Rio Olympics, to be held in Toronto starting on April 5. The Clan will send 12 different swimmers to the qualifiers.
“That’s a high level competition, it’s the most important event in our country. There’s no limitations on who can compete [. . .] at the olympic level, it’s open to everybody. So all of the best Canadian athletes, they can be training internationally, they come back and compete in the event. So it makes it very tough.”