INDIANAPOLIS -- The championship journey began without a pool.
As members of the Queens (N.C.) men’s and women’s teams jumped into the water Saturday night at IUPUI Natatorium to celebrate their double team titles in the DII Swimming and Diving Championships, they couldn‘t forget the past.
And maybe that is what made it so sweet.The historic moment is obvious. No team from Queens had ever won a national title in any sport until Saturday. And among the teams the Royals beat for this moment on the men’s side was Drury, the 10-time defending champ in DII.
Queens totaled 433.5 points, beating runner-up Drury's 417.5 points and No. 3 Lindenwood's 359 points.
Nick Arakelian, a freshman, won four individual events, setting two championship records n the 500-yard freestyle and 400 IM. And he was an absolute monster in the relay races as well. Matthew Josa, a sophomore, broke three national records and also won four individual events.
But Arakelian and Josa have something that some of their teammates didn’t have when they arrived at Queens: A pool.
When senior swimmer Evante Gibson came to Queens as a freshman, practices were held at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. There were high schools in the city that had better -- or any -- facilities than Queens.
And many of those practices were early in the morning; that‘s when the Royals could get the pool time, scheduling workouts around class times and programs the aquatic center had going on.
Queens swim coach Jeff Dugdale asked his recruits for patience. And to dream big.
“When we painted the picture four years ago, we didn’t have a pool,” Dugdale said, his shirt still soaked from his celebratory swim with his team after a dunk in the pool.
“So it’s hard to paint the picture of not having a pool and saying we’re going to win a national championship by the time they leave.”
This week in Indianapolis, Gibson and four other seniors on the men’s team, plus another four on the women’s team, chased after that vision.
“Five years ago we had a vision,” Gibson said. “We had a dream to come to NCAAs and win a championship, and we accomplished that. I couldn’t ask for a better way to end my career.”
“A lot of coaches take over programs that have been well established,” Dugdale said. “Here we got to create a culture. And I guess what makes this really special is that every one of these kids that are seniors now had to have a little bit of a vision and a leadership in them to see a future.”
The future included a pool at Queens that was opened in August 2013 and now a pair of team championship trophies to put in the trophy case.
This was no surprise attack. Arakelian, brother of women’s swimmer Caroline Arakelian, blasted to a win in the 1,000-yard freestyle, which was not only the first men’s event of the championships Wednesday but his first national championship race. He won three more races in the next three nights, not including relays. He never lost a race.
Josa broke records in his first three races, then added a win in the 200 backstroke Saturday. He was named the Male Swimmer of the Meet. Josa also never lost a race.
Their dominance was so complete that defending national champ Drury never had a swimmer win an individual men’s event, and its only win in the relays came in Saturday’s final event, the 400 freestyle relay, after Queens had already clinched the team title.
“I’ve put a lot of work in this past year,” said Josa, who won three individual national titles last year as a freshman. “For me, this is a stepping stone to getting me where I want to be in 2016. It’s just been a great ride. I couldn’t be any more grateful for a team like Queens University.”
Dugdale, who was named Coach of the Meet on both the men’s and women’s sides, saw his plan come to fruition on a night that his college coach at Auburn, David Marsh, was in the stands. The two have fostered a close relationship that includes both of them coaching Olympic-level swimmers at Team Elite at SwimMAC Carolina.
“Coach Marsh has been an incredible, incredible mentor to me and painting the way of what championships look like,” Dugdale said.
The Royals won despite having their 200-yard medley team disqualified Wednesday because of a registration error by Dugdale, and also an illness that caused problems with several athletes.
“What really made this win even more important is we had a sickness throughout. Our kids would not roll over,” Dugdale said. “They swam sick, they swam through adversity of an error on my part administratively and they were just resilient to no end in wanting to get this done. And that is what defines champions.”