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Paul Bowker | NCAA.com | March 10, 2015

Drury still the one to beat at DII champs

  Wen Xu, center, is part of the 16-player field Drury is sending to the DII Swimming and Diving Championships.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Here’s a tip: Remember the names Wen Xu, Wai Ting Yu and Stephanie Sin. Dial them into memory.

They may be about to make history in the women’s portion of the NCAA Div. II Swimming and Diving Championships at IUPUI Natatorium.

Actually, they already have.

Sin, a true freshman at UC San Diego, has already broken school records in the 1,000 and 1,650 freestyle, nine-year-old records held by NCAA champion Sophie Levy.

Xu, a Drury sophomore from Shanghai, broke a Great Lakes Valley Conference record in winning the 100 free at the conference championships. She also has the nation’s top time in the 50 free (22.54 seconds). Yu, a senior from Hong Kong and Xu‘s teammate, qualified for the national championships in nine events; she’ll swim in four individual events and three relays for the two-time defending champion Panthers.

And those are just three swimmers in a meet that may have statisticians reaching for the record books all four days.

“The DII national records that have been broken already this year have exceeded the total of the last few years combined,” Wingate coach Kirk Sanocki said. “Those types of outstanding performances should make NCAAs a great test for our student-athletes … a test I’m confident our swimmers are eager to take.”

Queens' swimmers include Caroline Arakelian, a junior who is the No. 1 seed in the 200 and 400 individual medley, and 200 backstroke.

Sofia Petrenko, a six-time All-American at the 2014 national championships, may make some noise herself for Wingate. She is a No. 3 seed in three events.

Drury is seeking its third consecutive national championship and sixth in seven years, and the Panthers have the numbers to make a big splash again. They have a meet-best 16 swimmers plus diver Rebekah Laupp.

But it could be a wild dash to the finish Saturday night. Three other teams have at least 12 qualified swimmers: UC San Diego had 13, and Wingate and Queens University of Charlotte each have 12.

Let there be no question about Drury’s motivation.

“The focus for our team year in and year out is the national championships,” head coach Brian Reynolds said. “That’s what we’ve been preparing for. We’re hoping we can be at our very best the next four days and have some great sessions, and hopefully be on top at the end.”

Not only are the Drury women attempting to defend their national title, but the school’s men’s team is going after its 11th consecutive national title.

Yu is one of four seniors on the team who are seeking a third national title. In 2014, she was on two national record-setting relay teams, won a national championship on another relay, broke a school record while finishing third in the 100 free and placed second in the 50 free.

“She’s just a really great team player,” Reynolds said. “You get a lot of kids that come into your program, especially the national champs, that don’t really buy into the team philosophy. She certainly has. She’s going to be a factor for us throughout the meet.”

Also in that senior group is Allie Reynolds, the GLVC champion in the 1650 freestyle and the daughter of the coach. This will be their final time together as coach and athlete at Drury. She is seeded 11th in the 1650 freestyle; Florida Southern’s Allison Crenshaw is No. 1 in that event and also the 1000 free.

“It’s been a great, great time,” Brian Reynolds said. “I’ve really enjoyed having her. We spend so much time at the pool. I’m just really fortunate that she’ll be there (at the nationals) and has been there. It makes it even more special to have your own child contributing toward the team’s effort. I really have had just a great four years with her.”

Drury’s speed in the 50 freestyle was displayed in the GLVC championships, when Panther swimmers nearly swept the entire race, winning six of the top seven places. Xu edged out Yu for first place.

That only sets up what should be a great show in the 50 free at the national championships. The top four seeds, led by Xu, are separated by just one-fifth of a second. Xu’s No. 1 time of 22.54 seconds is followed by Mary Hanson of Cal Baptist at :22.61, Bryndis Hansen of Nova S’eastern at :22.68, and Yu at :22.74. Xu is also the top seed in the 100 free.

While those swimmers will blast through the water in the sprint events, Sin is poised for a chase at the podium in her first national championship even if she is seeded No. 6 in the 1000 and 1650 free.

“Her school records in the 1000 and 1650 have stood since 2006 and were set by someone who was an NCAA champion, so this is quite an accomplishment for her as a freshman,” said UC San Diego coach Corrie Falcon. “I knew she was going to be good, but not this good.”

UC San Diego’s lineup also includes Colleen Daley, a junior who is qualified in six events, and Austine Lee, a sophomore who is qualified in five events.