MANSFIELD, Texas -- The most recent Division II CollegeSwimming.com/CSCAA Coaches' Poll had Drury ranked No. 4 at the end of the regular season, behind Grand Canyon, Incarnate Word and UC San Diego.

So much for the end-of-season rankings.

How does the winner of the past seven Division II Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships show up at the Mansfield Natatorium labeled as an underdog?

2012 DIVISION II CHAMPIONSHIPS
Final Results: 
Event-by-Event | Records Set | Record Book
Day 4 Results  Championship Photos
Day 3 Results
Full Day 3 Replay: Men  Women
Feature: Two heads are better than one at UCSD
Day 2 Results
Full Day 2 Replay: Men  Women
Feature: Alaska-Anchorage builds winner
Day 1 Results
Full Day 1 Replay: Men  Women
Feature: Nova Southeastern makes waves

Drury didn’t win its first swimming event of the season until six weeks into competition. Incarnate Word crushed the Panthers at the Drury Invitational, winning the meet by scoring 1,147 points. Last season’s Division II Swimmer of the Year Jun Han Kim did not return to the team. Instead he is training for the 2012 Olympics, where he hopes to compete for his home country South Korea. The men’s team also lost last season’s hot-shot freshman Matthew Maurer, who stopped swimming competitively this year due to injury.

Carlos Viveros missed much of the early competition this season because of ineligibility due to poor grades. Vladimir Sidorkin missed the fall semester after training for the 2012 London Games.

“It was a really long year,” Drury head coach Brian Reynolds said shortly after his men’s team won an eighth consecutive national title.  “If you would have asked me in October, I wouldn’t have believed this could happen.”

Brian Reynolds just wrapped up his 29th year as head coach of the Panthers and before the finals he stressed the importance of the team performance versus individual performances.

"I certainly think the kids realize the importance of them coming through as a group," Reynolds said. "This will be a depth swim meet for us. I think the most depth swim we've had was our first championship we won in 1985 [NAIA], where I remember we won just one race. That one came just entirely from a depth performance. So it can be done."

Reynolds has been in charge of the Drury team since 1983. During that time, he has built the Panther program into a Division II powerhouse, one that has earned 10 championship titles under his watch. When a visitor walks into Drury’s Breech Pool, they will notice the championship banners hanging on the walls. If you walk into the coach’s office, a number of second- and third-place trophies decorate the wall. He says he uses those trophies as motivation – meaning he would rather hang championship banners than place a trophy on a shelf.

The Panthers wrapped up their eighth consecutive national championship even before the end of the four-day meet. One of the reasons was because of the swimming on standout junior and 2008 Olympian Ryan Arabejo.

“It is a privilege to swim for Coach Reynolds,” Arabejo said. “We put the work into becoming a champion. So when we win, it is like a sigh of relief.”

The men’s championship is a bittersweet victory for the Panthers. Reynolds was on the cusp of becoming the first coach in Division I or Division II to pull off four consecutive men’s and women’s team titles. The women’s team entered Saturday’s competition in third place, a half-point behind UC San Diego and 55 points behind leader Wayne State (Mich.).

The Panthers nearly completed one of the most remarkable comebacks in swimming history, but fell short by one point.

“I don’t think any had ever comeback from 55 points down,” Reynolds said. “To come up and be that close, speaks volumes on their character. We came up a little short, but I’m very proud of them.”

One of Drury’s top performers on the women’s side, Erin Dolan was proud of her teammates.

“We only lost by a point, no one thought we could do this,” Dolan said. “Plus the men won and we are all one big team.”

When Reynolds looks back on the 2011-12 season, he admits this year was special because it was the first time he was able to coach his daughter, Allie, on the NCAA level.

“She’s a distance swimmer, so she works mostly with Jay [Jason Owen, Drury’s assistant coach] but she’s a great kid. She is everything you ask for in a child.”

After the Saturday’s events, Reynolds admitted sometimes you learn more from the losses than the wins, but he is still optimistic about the upcoming seasons.

“We saw a lot of kids come here and realize what they have to do for next year," Reynolds said. "That’s the key for success. You need to find kids where are willing to work for the future. Some freshmen are already looking to next year. I didn’t think this fall we had what it was going to take to win a championship. The kids bought in and worked really hard.”