Category Archives: Swimming

First to 5

She looks down into the pool from her spot on the starting block. Even as a senior, the butterflies in her stomach have not completely dissipated. They may have gotten smaller than the ones inhabiting her stomach during freshman year, but there is no doubt that they’re still there. She adjusts her goggles and swim cap and thinks, “This is going to hurt really bad.”

The preparation for the national championships has already been completed and for a test like this, there can be no cramming. Stretching? Breathing exercises? Prayer? Check, check and check. Now all that’s left is the swim.

But first, how did she get to this prestigious position?

Kirsten Nitz grew up playing any and all sports possible in her hometown of Frankfort, Ky. At age eight, Nitz joined a club swimming program, adding to a list of sports that also included cross country, soccer and a host of other sports.
In eighth grade, Nitz had physical pain in her feet and was diagnosed with sever’s disease, which caused her Achilles tendons to tear off the heel bone and break it. Nitz was forced to use crutches and could no longer play any sport involving contact. However, due to swimming’s low impact, the 14-year-old Nitz did not have to give up her best sport.

“It was frustrating to not be able to do other sports that I loved because I kept thinking my heels would get better,” Nitz explained, “but eventually it helped make the decision easier.”

The decision she refers to was the choice to give her life completely to the sport of swimming. As a homeschooled student, this task was made easier since she could easily tailor her education schedule and classes to intense swimming regimens and practice schedules. Her success was validated the summer before her senior year of high school when Nitz was recruited by numerous Division I programs, including the University of Kentucky.

In truth, the DI lifestyle did not appeal to Nitz. Plus, these DI schools did not have something that a certain liberal arts school in Wheaton, Ill. did – legacy. Nitz’s grandparents, parents, cousins and siblings had attended Wheaton College and her older brother, Jordan ‘13, was a current student at that time.

“Ultimately it came down to knowing that swimming was only going to last four more years,” Nitz explained. “The friends I made and the education I got here (at Wheaton) was going to weigh a lot heavier on my life than swimming.”

Before beginning her freshman year, Nitz qualified for every swimmer’s dream: the 2012 Olympic Trials in the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke. Even though her times were not ideal, the experience taught her how to deal with high-pressure meets, a skill that she utilized throughout her college career. During the Trials, she was inspired by some of swimming’s biggest names, including Missy Franklin, Natalie Coughlin, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.

This experience paid off as Nitz flourished under the guidance of Wheaton head swimming coach Jon Lederhouse.

“The fact that Wheaton is DIII is really special because no one is there because they’re being paid to be there,” said Nitz, “so that makes it a group of people who really want to be there.”

During her freshman year, Nitz didn’t exhibited any ‘rookie jitters’ as she grabbed three individual national championships in the 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard butterfly and 200-yard backstroke.

Her sophomore experience at the national championships had a much different look. After vomiting all night with the stomach flu, Nitz still wanted to swim in her best event, the 100-yard butterfly. With an empty stomach and vision bordering on blurry, Nitz was slumped in a chair before stumbling her way onto the starting block right before the race started. The last thing she remembers was barely being able to steady herself before somehow diving into the pool to begin the race.

“It was 100 percent God’s power that worked through me and not my own. That day I set the national record in the 100-yard butterfly and it was so obviously not anything that I could have done,” Nitz said. “God’s power is made perfect in our weakness and this was a great example of that.”

Practically collapsing after the conclusion of the swim, this performance was truly one for the books. Nitz’s 52.64 second 100-yard butterfly still stands as the DIII national record. She also owns the DIII national record for the 50-yard freestyle.

Now, back to 2016 and Nitz on the swimming block. The muscles of the senior swimmer twitch as she prepares to unleash every ounce of effort on her prized swim, the 100-yard butterfly. As the signal is given to start the race, the swimmers jump off the blocks and feel the cold rush of water hit their faces. Nitz puts her head down and plows ahead, confident with her strokes. Her father once told her, “The person who wants it more will win.” Over the past few years, there is no doubt that Nitz has wanted the 100-yard butterfly more. The only thing able to stop her was a junior year false-start.

She touches the wall and turns for home with 50 yards of water standing between her and another national championship trophy.

She’s experienced many successes throughout her swimming career, but it has definitely come at a steep cost. Summer camps were never viable and some friendships fell to the wayside due to the incredible amount of time she spent in the pool.

“I love swimming,” Nitz explained, but “it’s not one of those sports where the more you practice, the better you’re going to get at every championship meet. I had meets where I trained and worked really hard, but didn’t see the results that I wanted … at the same time, it is really exciting to set goals for yourself and then see the hard work pay off.”

As Nitz’s hands meet the wall signaling the end of the race, she looks up and down the length of the pool. Again, she has beaten the entire field and claimed her fifth individual national championship, a school record. In the coming months, she will graduate and potentially move on to a career as a women’s health nurse practitioner. But for now, Nitz can relax and enjoy her victory. For the last time in her career, she is the indisputable queen of the pool.

Swimming’s season successfully comes to a close

The Thunder men and women’s swimming teams demonstrated a plethora of positive aspects and accomplishments over the course of their 2015-2016 season.

Both teams finished among the top of the conference championships this year, with the women’s team winning its 19th consecutive title. The Thunder swimmers carried this momentum into the 2016 NCAA Division III National Swimming Championships, qualifying 12 swimmers to represent Wheaton.

The championships took place last week from Wednesday to Saturday. The Thunder began their participation in the event by setting various school records in extraordinary relay team displays. Both of the Thunder’s 200-yard medley relay teams set school records.

The men’s team of freshman Chris Szymczak, freshman Elliot Penson, junior Jacob Clement and sophomore Jack O’Connor finished in 14th with a time of 1:30.74. The women’s team of senior Kirsty Nitz, sophomore Erin Bagley, senior Sarah Coley and senior Hannah Rueger finished in only 1:43.69, placing eighth and earning All-American honors.

Thursday night, Kirsty Nitz won the National Championship in the 100-yard butterfly. Incredibly, this title marked her third national title in the 100-fly and her fifth overall National Championship in her career, making her the first and only athlete in Wheaton history to win five individual National Championships.

The Thunder men’s 400-medley relay team of Szymczak, Penson, Clement and O’Connor broke another school record by five whole seconds, finishing in 3:18.77 and earning 12th place.

Szymczak’s 200-yard backstroke performance highlighted Saturday for the Thunder. In the morning prelims, he qualified second overall and established a program and CCIW open record with a time of 1:47.45. In the finals, the freshman swam a very similar time of 1:47.73, finishing in fifth place and earning All-American honors. Penson also earned All-American honors, breaking the CCIW open record in the men’s 200-yard breaststroke with a time of 2:00.18 in sixth place.

Wheaton’s women’s 400-freestyle relay team of Coley, Bagley, Nitz and sophomore Kayla Roberson won the consolation finals with a school and CCIW open record time of 3:25.72, finishing in ninth place.

The women’s team finished with 124 points — the program’s most points since 2003 — and earned a 10th overall finish. The men’s team finished in 18th place. Despite the fact that half of the 12 swimmers were freshmen and had never been to the national meet before, the swimming team represented Wheaton in spectacular fashion to close out their wildly successful season.


SAY CHEESE The 200-freestyle relay team of Erin Bagley, Sarah Coley, Sarah Oldach and Kirsty Nitz pose with their trophies at the Dill National Swimming Championships.


Swimming team finds its stroke

This past weekend, the men’s and women’s swim teams competed in the CCIW Championship meet. Both teams performed incredibly well as the men placed third and the women finished first for the 19th straight season. Both teams had several exceptional individual and group performances and broke multiple records in the process.

Junior Erin Bagley set a team and CCIW record in the 100-yard breaststroke competition, the women’s 200-yard medley and free relays. The women’s 400 medley relay set CCIW records, as well as qualifying for the NCAA. The 200 free relay and the 400 medley relay also qualified for NCAA and set a new CCIW record.

On the men’s side, there were four new individual team and CCIW records. The Thunder set team and CCIW records in the 200 and 400 medley relay races, as well as a new team record set in the 800 free relay race.

Chris Dingfield, a sophomore in the 800 free relay, has been pleased with the improvement he has witnessed. He explained, “This year compared to last year is like day and night.”

What was the secret behind Wheaton’s success over the weekend? Dingfield credited the team’s strong showing to tapering. For roughly two weeks leading up to the meet, they decreased the intensity of their practices and gradually cut out weight training. Everyone also took measures to sleep adequate amounts, avoid running, eat healthy, get rid of stressors like homework and avoiding stairs at all costs. Ultimately, it is hard argue with the results, as the tapering played a big part in Wheaton’s strong weekend at the CCIW meet.

As the swimming season comes to a close, the Thunder can reflect on this past season and be proud of a solid overall performance. If there was any question about the ability of this group, those questions were answered with a brilliant final weekend as Wheaton put up a great effort to finish the season on a strong note.

Expecting the unexpected

As Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid plans of Mice and Men go oft awry.” Life is full of unexpected challenges, and the ideal scenario is rarely the event that actually occurs. This is why the swim team plans for the unplanned and practices what to do if something goes wrong during a race. On Saturday, that practice paid off.

The swim team travelled to Carthage for a meet, but the trip did not quite go according to plan.

“Getting to the meet was a little off-kilter, and, administratively, things didn’t go as planned,” said head coach Jon Lederhouse. “Something went awry, so we had to make adaptations. We actually didn’t have the entire team up there.”

He declined to comment on what exactly happened. Despite the added distraction, the teams did well as the men beat Carthage 150-138 and the women squeaked by with a 147-141 score. Performances in close races were the key to the Thunder victory as they won nine out of the 11 races in which the time differential was less than a second.

Lederhouse consistently has “disaster drills” during practice where he simulates a worst-case scenario. Such scenarios include goggles filling up with water or stumbling off the blocks. He does this in order to prepare his team should a similar situation occur during the meet.

“In athletics, you want to have things going smoothly, and so we do strive for that,” Lederhouse said. “But as an athlete it’s important for them to realize there are those times when things don’t go quite right, so you have to adapt to that.”

Some of his swimmers asked him if the circumstances at the meet were just another disaster drill, but he insisted that they weren’t planned, and likened them to an “unplanned fire drill.” His disaster drills seem to have paid off, though, as the team was prepared and obtained an unlikely victory. At the end of the meet, the team gathered together and sang the doxology, thanking God for helping them through the unexpected trials. Hopefully the next meet will go a bit smoother for the Thunder as they prepare for Olivet Nazarene University.

Swim team finishes 12th in national championships

The Wheaton women’s swim team followed up an 18th straight CCIW title back in February with a 12th place finish at nationals last weekend. Eight members of the team made the trip to Shenandoah, Texas, on Wednesday to compete in the Division III National Cham­pionships, with several top ten finishes highlighting the trip for the Thunder swimmers.

For the second consecutive year, junior Kirsty Nitz re­corded the highest finish for Wheaton, finishing in third place in the 200 yard fly. A year ago, Nitz was a national cham­pion in the 100 yard fly and had hoped to defend her title this year, but after finishing with the fastest time in the event prelims, Nitz was disqualified for a flinch at the race’s start.

The 400 yard medley relay team of Nitz, freshman Erin Bagley, junior Sarah Coley and junior Katie Cialkowski took sixth in their event with a time of 3:46.99. That time set a new record for both Whea­ton College and the CCIW. A school and conference record was also set in the 200 yard medley relay by Nitz, Bagley, freshman Kayla Roberson and junior Sarah Hunt. Their time of 1:43.87 was good enough for an eighth place finish.

Heading into Saturday, Wheaton sat in 10th place in the team standings. Unfortu­nately, Wheaton was placed as first alternate in two final events: the 400 yard free­style relay and junior Katie Deysher for the 200 yard in­dividual medley. As such, the two teams immediately be­hind Wheaton in the stand­ings were able to jump ahead of Wheaton. Wheaton fin­ished in 12th place at nation­als for the second consecu­tive year, despite putting up school and conference re­cord times in several events.

With a score of 603, Emory University claimed its sixth consecutive NCAA Division III championship. Wheaton finished with a total of 84 points.

With only a small num­ber of swimmers graduat­ing in 2015, Wheaton figures to be in National consider­ation next year, as well. Ju­nior Kirsty Nitz has one more year to reclaim her na­tional title, after a disappoint­ing disqualification this year.

Highlights of the women’s performance included a sixth place finish in the 400-yard medley and a eight place finish in the 200-yard medley, both of which set Wheaton and CCIW records with times of 3:46.99 and 1:43.87 respectively.

Taking all the awards

The CCIW honored three members of the Thunder swim team in an awards sweep, after both men and women took first in the Wheaton tri-meet on Saturday. Sophomore Sarah Neubaum won the conference diver of the week after putting up a career high score on Saturday; junior Sarah Coley took home female swimmer of the week and sophomore Jacob Clement was named male swimmer of the week.

Clement, sophomore Will McCauley, freshman Joe Nussaum, freshman Chris Dingfield, sophomore Sam Chong and junior Nick Pulgine all garnered first place finished for the men on Saturday. Junior Chris Laugier took first in both one-and three-meter dives.

Coley took first along with senior Sarah Pankratz, junior Sarah Hunt and sophomore Sarah Oldach in the 200-yard freestyle relay. Freshmen Erin Bagley, Emily Blom, Camille Perkins, Meredith Clarkson and senior Amanda MacLurg all took first in their respective races, while freshman Abby Prince broke Wheaton records in both the one-and three-meter dives.

The divers return to the pool for the CCIW diving championships this weekend, while the swimmers compete for the CCIW championships the following weekend.

Thunder swim at Chrouser Natatorium

Both the men and women began the weekend with a meet against Carthage on Friday night with the women coming out on top and the men falling. The women swept the relays with first place finishes in the 200-yard medley relay and the 200-yard freestyle relay. Junior Kirsty Nitz took first in the 200-yard freestyle, while junior teammates Katie Cialkowski and Sarah Coley took second and third to sweep the podium. Junior Sarah Hunt took first in the 50-yard freestyle with junior Hannah Rueger and senior Kelly Ormond taking second and third respectively. Junior Katie Deysher took first in the 200-yard individual medley, finishing four seconds ahead of second place. Nitz then took first in the 100-yard butterfly, recording a national best time in the process. Coley took first in the 100-yard freestyle and freshman Erin Bagley took first in both the 100-yard breaststroke and 100-yard backstroke, giving the women the victory by a score of 140-101.

The men did not fare quite as well against Carthage, falling 119-103. Freshman Jack O’Connor took first in the 200-yard freestyle while senior Korey Clement finished second. Later in the 50-yard freestyle, sophomore Jacob Clement and senior Jack Raymond placed second and third respectively, finishing just .01 seconds apart. Sophomore Jon Lait took first in the 200-yard individual medley while freshman Chris Dingfield won the 100-yard butterfly. O’Connor followed his 200-yard freestyle win with a victory in the 100-yard freestyle Jacob Clement won the 500-yard freestyle. In the Saturday diving competition, senior Chris Laugier took first in both the one and three meter dives.

On Saturday, the women took first in the quad meet against Hope, Kalamazo and Lake Forest. Once again, they won every relay, with the 400-yard medley relay finishing six seconds ahead of the second place team. Bagley took first in the 200-yard individual medley while Coley finished third and then second in the 100-yard freestyle. Nitz then took first in the 200-yard butterfly, finishing five seconds ahead of the competition. Wheaton then swept the podium in the in the 200-yard breaststroke with freshman Kayla Roberson, Deyser and Bagley taking first, second and third respectively.

Once again, the men were not able to perform as well as the women in their quad, finishing fourth with a score of 436. They took first in the 400-yard freestyle relay and second in the 400-yard medley relay, finishing less than .3 seconds behind first place Kalamazoo. Dingfield took first in the 200-yard butterfly and third in the 200-yard individual medley, while sophomore teammate Will McCauley took second. McCauley then won the 500-yard freestyle and Korey Clement finished one spot behind him. Jacob Clement took the top spot in the 200-yard freestyle while freshman Addison Coen won the 200-yard backstroke. O’Connor finished with wins in both the 50 and 100-yard freestyles.

For her efforts in both meets, Katie Deysher came away with CCIW Women’s Swimmer of the Week on Tuesday, the second time in her collegiate career she has won the award and the fourth such honor for Wheaton this season.

Both Thunder squads will be back in the pool this weekend as they participate in the Chicago Diving Invite downtown against the University of Illinois on Saturday.

34th Wheaton Invitational

Last Friday and Saturday, the Thunder hosted the 34th annual Wheaton Invitational at Wheaton College’s Crouser Natatorium, where the Thunder competed against Hope College, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Washington University. Washington University swept the competition, winning both the mens’ and womens’ meets. The men’s team placed fourth in the competition with 520 points, and the women’s team trailled behind Washington University’s 1,106 points to place second with 683 points.

The Thunder saw some promising results from their incoming freshman team, as freshman Jack O’Connor finished second in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 21.19, and anchoring the 400-yard freestyle relay with a split time of 45.9 seconds while freshman Chris Dingfield saw a lifetime best in the 100-yard fly with a time of 51.6.

On the women’s team, freshman Kayla Roberson earned a lifetime best time of 2:08 in the 200-yard individual medley, while freshman Meredith Clarkson cut seven seconds off of her high school time in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 1:03.1.

The freshmen were not the only team members with strong results. Junior Katie Deysher won both the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 2:06, and the 400-yard individual medley in 4:31, while Junior Kirsty Nitz made herself the star of the meet as she swam the 200 yard butterfly in 1:59.62, maintaining her reputation as the only DIII woman to swim the event with a time under 2:05, as well as winning the 100-yard fly and 100-yard backstroke in times of 53.7 and 56.7, respectively, leading the NCAA times in both fly events. For the men’s team, sophomore Will McCauley won his 400-yard individual medley in 4:05.

In the 200-yard medley, the women’s line up of Erin Bagley, Kayla Roberson, Kirsty Nitz and junior Sarah Hunt won the event in a time of 1:46.2, setting a new meet record, and making NCAA consideration, while both the men’s and women’s teams placed second in the 800-yard freestyle relay, clocking times of 7:01.25 and 7:41.32.

The Thunder’s next competition will take place at the beginning of next semester, when the Thunder faces rival Carthage College in a dual meet on Jan. 16.