March 10, 2010

By Marty Gitlin
Special to NCAA.com

CANTON, Ohio -- Only a few events remained in the first of four days of the Division II Swimming and Diving Championships at C.T. Branin Natatorium, and Drury coach Brian Reynolds was speaking with a decidedly contented tone about his women's team.

The scoreboard told the story. His Panthers boasted a wide lead over second-place Wayne State [Detroit]. "I didn't anticipate us creating this kind of spread," Reynolds said. "It's been a really enjoyable first day."

It remained an enjoyable first day, although it ended with the Warriors breathing down the Panthers' necks a little more than Reynolds would have liked. By day's end, Wayne State diver Cassie Chetosky had won the 3-meter event and her teammates snagged the 200-yard medley relay with a national-record time of 1:41.4 to close the gap markedly.

Drury finished the evening's activities with 156 points, followed by Wayne State with 143. Those two teams had distanced themselves from Pennsylvania's Clarion (72) and West Chester (70.5), and the University of California-San Diego (59).

The smile on Reynolds' face, however, had not dissipated, largely because his men's team also finished the night in first place with 79 points. San Antonio's Incarnate Word (73), Arkansas' Ouachita Baptist (68), Wayne State (66) and North Carolina's Wingate (60) following closely. But there was no doubt he was feeling a bit more uncomfortable at night's end than he was a bit earlier about the women's competition.

And Wayne State coach Sean Peters was feeling a lot better.

"Cassie and our 200 medley relay setting that national record really fashioned a good way for us to end this session," understated Peters. "With us and the Drury relay team, that could have gone either way."

The Warrior women started brilliantly when senior Ashley St. Andrew dominated the 1,000 freestyle at 9:57.4, winning by more than eight seconds. That came as little surprise considering she had established the top seed time by a whopping 12 seconds. But St. Andrew claimed she never had to fight complacency. She was particularly wary of Drury's Erin Dolan, who placed second.

"I was kind of worried about Erin," said St. Andrew, who is considering chasing an Olympic dream. "I just tried to take the lead from the start and keep it. I felt pretty good when I got to the point when I couldn't see anyone else. I felt great the first 500 yards, but not so good the last 500 yards. But I really wanted to win for the team."

So did the Drury women, who crowned no champion the first day, but fared well enough in several events to hold on to the lead. Li Yuanqing joined Dolan as a second-place finisher with her performance in the 200-yard IM and the 200-yard medley relay team also took second.

"I'm very excited," Reynolds said. "The girls have done a tremendous job and they're swimming really well. We have some good things rolling."

Perhaps the finest performance of the night was delivered by Truman State (Kirksville, Mo.) senior Kate Aherne. The defending 200-yard IM champion broke her own NCAA record by clocking in at 2:00.56. But she was a lone wolf for her team, which remained quite distant from the leaders.

And when the splashing was all done, Peters admitted that both the Drury men and women were going to be tough to beat.

"Drury is definitely the favorite," he conceded. "You have to consider the quality of their program. They're just so tough to match up with. But our men are far exceeding expectations here."