January 18, 2013 - There have been a lot of stories floating around the sports world lately that are heavy on drama, not always the positive kind. But the story that played out inside the Hillsdale College natatorium Friday night couldn't have been any better or more dramatic for the Charger women's swimming team.
Taking on No. 8-ranked Ashland, one of their most talented opponents of the season, on the occasion of their final home meet of the season, in front of a huge crowd, and on a night when their six seniors said goodbye to that home crowd, the swimmers banded together to put on a marvelous performance in a 112-111 win over the Eagles.
It was a performance the underclassmen have worked hard towards, and one the seniors will likely always cherish. Fans packed the rows of bleachers overlooking the Jack McAvoy Natatorium well before the meet started to salute the team's six seniors (pictured): Annemarie Brinkman, Sarah Leitner, Sami Ward, Catherine Shilka, Lauren Burt and Emily Peltier. Together, they have set a great example of superior work ethic in the pool and academic excellence outside of the pool, to establish the high-quality program the underclassmen of the team will carry on into the future.
Coach Kurt Kirner called it a "great team effort," and noted excellent performances from all corners of the roster.
Scoring key points for Hillsdale was sophomore diver Gretchen Geist, who was victorious in both the one and three-meter dive events. In the past, Hillsdale has been victimized in dual meets due to its lack of a diver, but Geist has filled a key void since her arrival before the 2011-12 season. Geist's uncontested win in the 3 meter dive all but wrapped up the win for Hillsdale.
With such a closely contested meet, points near the end of the meet were crucial. Coming through for Hillsdale was the duo of Cayley Cruickshank and Ali Bauer in the 100 breaststroke. Their second and third places helped soften the blow of a win by the Eagles to maintain the tight lead for the Chargers. Cruickshank's time of 1:09.60 was pointed out by Kirner as one of the team's strongest of the meet.
Depth was also a big part of the win for Hillsdale. In four of the last five non-relay meets, the Chargers swept second and third places to prevent the Eagles from making up much ground in the meet.
The Chargers built a solid early lead in the meet by taking two of the top three places - including wins by freshman Zoe Hopkins and Leitner - in the first two non-relay events of the meet. Hopkins cruised to an easy win in the 1000 free with a time of 10:56.7, while Leitner, an outstanding competitor swimming at home for the last time, won by just .37 seconds in a hotly contested 200 free event.
Freshman Sarah Rinaldi won the 200 IM by three seconds over anyone else in the race, winning with a time of 2:14.48. Freshman Naofa Noll and Rinaldi later went 2-3 in the 100 butterfly to again give Hillsdale key points because of its depth.
The team is next in action Saturday, Jan. 26 at Kalamazoo College in a non-league meet.