INDIANAPOLIS -- The kings of Division II swimming are back again.
Drury‘s men‘s team has won 10 consecutive NCAA championships. And when the DII Swimming and Diving Championships begin Wednesday at the IUPUI Natatorium, the Panthers will have an event-high 14 student-athletes ready to chase an 11th title.
Among them are Sean Feher, who was a piece of the Panthers‘ record-setting national championship 200 freestyle relay squad in 2014, and Daniel Rzadkowski, a sophomore from Poland who was on the same relay team. Both are qualified in seven events at the national championships.
Queens (North Carolina), which is ranked No. 2 behind Drury in the coaches’ national poll, also has 11 qualifiers and has a No. 1 seed in 10 events. No. 3 Florida Southern, runner-up to Drury the past two years, has 10 qualifiers.
For Drury head coach Brian Reynolds, the moment is all about the team’s seniors. The Panthers have five in Indianapolis, including Feher. Joining him from the senior class are Samuel Olson, Kacper Pelczynski, Stanislav Kuzmin and Jordi Montseny.
“On our team, I’d like to think that everybody is important,” Reynolds said. “I definitely think the seniors deserve most of the recognition when it comes to that.”
At Drury the emphasis is certainly on the team. It is a prequisite for those joining the program, whether on the men’s side or the women’s side, which also is defending national champion.
“I think it’s finding the kids that want to come in and work as hard as we do, and they want to be a part of that,” Reynolds said. “It’s really just identifying kids that are obviously talented athletes and they want to be a part of a winning program. Lots of kids think that’s what they want, but we try to make sure we explain to them this is what they’re stepping into just from a day-in and day-out [procedure].
“Kids have to be really focused. They don’t get vacations and time away, things like that. They have to be able to commit to that pretty much. Every year we come back and try to do it all over again.”
The Panthers won the Great Lakes Valley Conference team title by more than 225 points. Feher and Rzadkowski were on the winning 400 free relay squad. Montsney won the 200 back in a league-record 1:46.88 and Kuzmin won the 200 butterfly in a record 1:47.80, as well as his second consecutive conference title in the 100 fly.
Feher began his collegiate career as a distance swimmer, competing in five events three years ago including a second-place finish in the 500 free relay. He was up to 11th place in the 1,000 free a year later. He isn’t in anything above 200 meters now, and is a contender in the 100 and 200 backstroke, and 50 free.
“He’s really blossoming,” Reynolds said. “I think he’s going to have a great meet.”
Olson will be a swimmer to watch if only because he is healthy this year. At the 2014 national championships, recovering from a broken collarbone, Olson still won two titles on relay teams and finished eighth in the 50 free.
“I really felt last year he would have done even better,” Reynolds said. “He had to come to the championship after being able to swim for a few weeks after being released [medically]. He wasn’t at his best.”
The Panthers will get plenty of competition from Lindenwood, which nearly doubled the size of its national qualifiers from a year ago (11, from six) when it placed 12th. Among them is Sylwester Borowicz-Skoneczny, a speedy sophomore who finished second in the 1,000 last year. The first swimming All-American in school history, he is ranked top 10 nationally in the 500, 1000 and 1500 free.
Queens University of Charlotte, which is seeking its first national title in swimming, has a strong team that includes sophomore Matthew Josa, who is qualified in nine events and is a top swimmer in the fly. He is ranked No. 1 in the 100 and 200 fly, and 200 individual medley.
Queens’ Alex Menke will battle Borowicz-Skoneczny in the 1000; Menke is seeded No. 2 in the 1000 and won the national title in the 1650 two years ago.
Florida Southern is led by Marco Palacios, a sophomore who is qualified in three individual events plus the 400 medley relay. He is unbeaten in the 100 backstroke. Senior swimmers Allan Gutierrez and Luis Rojas qualified for the fourth year. Gutierrez already has one national relay title, and two second-place finishes.