BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - In an event she dominated all season long, Anji Shakya earned UC San Diego's first national title of the 2013 NCAA Division II Swimming & Diving Championships Thursday night at the Birmingham CrossPlex.
The junior co-captain led the championship final of the 200 freestyle virtually from the start, capping a controlled race in 1:47.95 to break her own school record (1:48.24) while falling just short of the Division II standard of 1:47.10. Closest competitors Tiffany Bell of Drury and Kathryn Pheil of Wingate tied for second (1:48.53) behind Shakya, now a first-time national champion after a pair of runner-up finishes in the 200 and 500 free at last year's meet.
Shakya, a Davis native, arrived in Alabama with Division II's top mark in both the 200 and 500, and posted the fastest time in morning prelims of the 200 (1:48.37).
The four-day championships are being held as part of the NCAA Division II National Championships Festival, co-hosted by the Gulf South Conference and the city of Birmingham and featuring over 1,000 student-athletes from five sports that will crown their team champions this week.
As expected following a stellar showing in the morning that saw five individuals and both relays advance through to championship finals, the Triton women surged up the leaderboard from 10th all the way into third at the end of the second day. Their 171.5 points trail only Drury (237.5) and defending champion Wayne State (180).
The Triton men, who began the day in sixth, fell back to eighth with 124 points. Eight-time defending champion Drury leads second-place Grand Canyon by 70 points, 258-184.
The rise for the UCSD women was spurred in addition to the 20 points Shakya provided with her win, by having three swimmers in the 100 butterfly final. The Tritons picked up 42 big points there with senior Olivia Fountain and Jaclyn Amog sharing fourth-place in 55.35, and Naomi Thomas, a true freshman swimming in her first career NCAA final, right behind them in sixth (55.41). Grand Canyon senior Mychala Lynch defended her 2012 crown in 54.31.
In the morning, Thomas had sped a career-best 55.08, second-fastest all-time at UCSD only to Fountain's school-record 54.95, while Fountain (55.54) and Amog (then-season-best 55.80) trailed her as the trio qualified in 4-5-8. Amog, now No. 3 on the Tritons' all-time list with her 55.47 from 2012 nationals, shaved over a second off her previous best this season (56.38) over the course of the day.
Beth Dong added to the points haul with her fifth-place finish in her specialty, the 400 individual medley, timing 4:22.14. The co-captain had entered the meet with the top mark both nationally in Division II this season (school-record 4:18.01), as well as from morning preliminaries (4:19.80). Fellow senior Casey Adams swam 4:29.50 in the consolation final for 14th (4:30.43 prelims).
The women's 200 free relay of seniors Olivia Fountain and Katherine Tse, along with Colleen Daley and Shakya, touched fourth in a closely-competitive championship final in 1:32.76. It was a second faster than the mark in qualifying (1:33.76), also fourth-best, when sophomore Sierra Robbins had led off. The time was also just off the school record of 1:32.16. A true freshman, Daley swam her third leg in a blistering 22.88. Ashland, the top seed from the morning, won in 1:32.20.
Sophomore Dane Stassi touched seventh in the championship final of the 100 fly in 48.27 (48.45 prelims). Adam Yen, who raced 49.30 in qualification only to seemingly miss out on a return swim by .05 seconds as the first alternate in 17th, took teammate Nicholas Korth's spot in the consolation final so that Korth (12th, season-best 49.00 in prelims) could focus on the 400 medley relay. The senior rewarded his coaches' decision by moving up into 11th overall in a season-best 48.73.
The Tritons' 400 medley relay of Fountain, sophomore Eva Chen, Dong and Daley combined to go 3:45.28, lopping over two full seconds off a previous season-best of 3:47.40 from the morning for sixth. Dong's 100-yard butterfly splits were second-best in both prelims (54.49) and the final (54.45) only to winner LIU Post (53.34 and 54.09). Senior Katherine Tse swam the freestyle anchor in qualification.
The men's 400 medley relay of senior co-captain Julius Espiritu, Korth, Stassi and junior Alex Merrill swam 3:17.03 for eighth after posting a season-best 3:16.47 for the seventh-fastest time in prelims. Espiritu's opening backstroke split of 50.25 in the morning was his season best, as Yen and junior Reid McCallum swam the fly and free legs, respectively. Grand Canyon won in 3:11.93, a meet-record by half a second.
Swimming in his first career NCAA final, freshman Paul Li went 3:56.34 for seventh in the 400 IM, having produced a remarkable prelim time of 3:55.86, shaving nearly four seconds off of his previous best as a Triton. Senior Adam Rice doubled up on season bests on the day in 3:54.94 for 11th (3:56.65 prelims). Wayne State sophomore Piotr Jachowicz completed his IM sweep in meet-record times (3:47.62).
In earlier action, redshirt freshman Dari Watkins won her heat of the 200 free by over two seconds in 1:51.61 to debut at nationals, but ultimately had to settle for first alternate as the 17th-fastest of the morning. Her previous best was 1:54.47.
In the men's 200 free, Merrill (18th, 1:39.32) and Li (19th, 1:39.36) narrowly missed coming back in finals, with both winding up as alternates. Michael Leung, a true freshman in his first NCAA Championships race (26th, 1:40.16), and Espiritu (43rd, 1:41.49), also competed in the event.
Thursday prelim competitors for UCSD were rounded out by senior Amber Tan (26th, 57.88) in the 100 fly, junior Erika Rodman (35th, 1:54.83) in the 200 free and senior Jeremy Smith in the 400 IM (26th, 4:04.97).
Friday's swimming action will feature the 500 free as Shakya gets right back in the water with the nation's fastest time, as well as the 100 back, 100 breast, 200 fly and 800 free relay. Korth (100 breast) and Stassi (200 fly) are medal contenders, while senior diver Tyler Runsten will round out his stellar Triton career on the one-meter springboard beginning with 11-dive trials at 11:30 a.m. PT. Swimming preliminaries get under way at 8 a.m. PT. Evening segments start at 3:30 p.m.
Anji Shakya’s school record was UCSD’s first of the meet and eighth this season, a total that includes five program standards on the women’s side, three of which have come from Shakya, who has now twice broken what heading into this season was Triton legend Alex Henley’s 200 free record ... Shakya’s evening swim marked the 41st individual national title by a Triton women’s swimmer (20 in Division II, 21 in Division III), and yet is just the first in the 200 freestyle ... In fact, the 200 is also now the shortest freestyle distance ever won by a UCSD women’s swimmer ... Dane Stassi, the favorite in Friday’s 200 butterfly with Division II’s top mark this season his school-record 1:45.65 from November’s Arena Invitational, in fact boasts the only automatic NCAA qualifying time in the event this season ... Stassi’s entry time is almost two full seconds faster (1:47.56) than anyone else in Friday’s field of 19 ... Shakya and Beth Dong are each qualified in seven events at these championships, tied with three other women for third-most behind a pair of swimmers who qualified for eight.
Junior Co-Captain Anji Shakya
On her win in the 200 free:
"The second 50, I kind of felt, 'I have this,' because it seemed like I could go forever. But I definitely got tired toward the end, and I could feel a couple of the other swimmers catching me. I'm not used to that, but I just put my head down and charged. Even when I touched the wall, I wasn't 100 percent sure I had won.
"I'm always nervous before races, but today, I was nervous because I wasn't nervous. I hadn't even cried yet. It definitely helped having the support of my team in the pre-race build-up. They're always there for me.
"I went out fast tonight. The coaches always tell me I'm a closer and will be able to finish. So I took their advice and went out hard. I was dying at the end, but knew I'd have something left."
Co-Head Coach Corrie Falcon
On Anji Shakya's performance:
"I was excited that she took it out really fast and held onto a tremendous pace. That last 50 probably hurt a little bit, but she was first to every wall, most importantly the last one. It was a phenomenal swim.
"In the past, she's felt uncomfortable going out too fast and I was proud of her stepping past that tonight. That's what you do in a big final. You just go. That's when you see big swims."
* Because they considered the 200 freestyle his best race, the coaching staff had toyed with the idea of scratching Paul Li from the 400 IM.
"(Assistant coach) Jason (Martin) told me going in (to the meet) that there was about a 10 percent chance I'd be swimming the IM," said Li.
"I've always been decent but I've mostly trained distance freestyle so the 400 IM was sort of a last resort here. I was very surprised to do that well. I thought I was going to drop time, but not that much (roughly four seconds). It definitely tired me out, though, and tonight I came in over my time from the prelims."
* At the NCAA Championships, the top qualifier for championship finals in each event gets to select the walk-out song. That responsibility fell to Beth Dong in the 400 IM.
"I chose "Oh Happy Day" from Sister Act 2," said Dong. "(Teammate) Paul Guzman and I are huge singing fans and love gospel music. This has been our 'quarter song.' I've probably listened to that song more than any other this past quarter and it's got a wicked high C. It brings me to a happy place."
Anji Shakya made the pick for the 200 freestyle, and her choice was "Midnight City" by M-83.
-- UCSDtritons.com --