DIII Men's Swimming and Diving: Denison bests rival Kenyon for championship
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Denison stood on one side of the pool here at the Greensboro Aquatic Center, directly across from Kenyon.
There was no way for one to hide from the other, and it had been like that all here at the NCAA Division III men’s swimming and diving national championship. Back and forth they went for the team lead.
Wednesday, it was Denison.
Friday, the advantage was back to Denison. Thirty-three points separated the two schools, a fairly comfortable margin, but not insurmountable. On Saturday, the most important day of all because it was the final day, Denison maintained the top spot and scored its magical national championship.
Best of all, these two teams are far from strangers. Longtime rivals in the North Coast Athletic Conference, the schools are separated by maybe thirty miles in Central Ohio.
If the stretch between Chapel Hill and Durham is Tobacco Road, then Denison head coach Gregg Parini grinned and said that Ohio 661 would have to be considered Chlorine Pass.
“Kenyon and Denison have been conference rivals for a long, long time and national rivals for a while, too,” Parini said. “I think both teams tend to bring out the best in each other. I think our close proximity tends to foster great competition and great performances. It’s special whenever they’re in the pool for us.”
Let it not be said, though, that this was just a two-team meet. Let it not even be hinted, because Parini says that it just wasn’t the case.
“Any national championship is terrific,” he continued. “We didn’t just beat Kenyon. We beat a lot of good teams. There’s a lot of great swimming in Division III. We had to go through a lot of great schools to win the title.”
As the final men’s event wound down, however, it would have been impossible to guess that Parini’s squad had already clinched the crown. Seeded first in the men’s 400 freestyle relay, the Big Red could manage only a fourth-place finish.
And Parini didn’t appear to be very happy about it. At all.
“We had a terrific fourth-day morning, and we set ourselves up for a good night,” Parini said. “We maybe didn’t finish quite as well as we would’ve liked to tonight. I think we let down maybe just a little bit, but it’s not always winning the battles. It’s winning the war. I think in this case, we did that.”
There’s no thinking about it, actually. Denison definitely won the war.
“I’m very proud of the effort the guys put forward throughout the whole season,” Parini said. “This has been quite a journey for this group of young men. I’m very proud of the effort that they put forward. This is a big achievement for this group of guys. I’m just really proud of our kids. I’m really, really proud of the level of integrity and honesty they brought to the season.”
What Denison also did was maintain its status as the only other team besides Kenyon to win the DIII national championship in the last three-and-a-half decades. Since 1980, the Lords have won every single DIII national championship. Except for two, in 2011 and 2012.
The champion those two seasons? Denison.
Whatever happened here this week, win or lose, Kenyon head coach Jess Book was going to take it in stride. Or … at the very least … try.
Win as much as Kenyon has over the years, and from the outside looking in, it might seem that anything else would be a disappointment. No so, according to Book.
“That’s a dangerous way of thinking,” Book insisted earlier in the week. “That’s something we really work hard on as a team, and as individuals. If you just boil success down to winning and losing, you’ve missed out on a whole huge part of the spectrum that can be highly successful as well. Not allowing ourselves to fall into that trap is really important, and something we work on, something we talk about.
“It’s not always easy. I think winning and success can go hand in hand, but they don’t have to, either. There are individual milestones along the way that can indicate what we’ve accomplished as a team this season. If we can do that, we’re going to be proud of ourselves. If we finish a meet and we’ve been the most exciting team on the pool deck, we can be proud of that, whether that means we finished first, second, third, fourth or even further down the line.”