ST. PETER’S, Mo. -- It’s tight, but Californians sit atop the standings after 3 days of the 4-day NAIA Women’s Swimming & Diving Championship Meet, and to the surprise of some, Azusa Pacific is among the leaders.
The Cougars are currently in third place with 299 points, trailing only second-place Fresno Pacific University by just 11 points, and front-runner California Baptist University, which tops the leader board with 465 points.
Azusa Pacific enjoyed a historic day for the program, opening Friday’s competition by winning the 200-yard freestyle relay with a school-record time of 1:36.09. Victoria Gibb, Karla Hill, Quinn Robertson and Kaylen Hewko posted Azusa Pacific’s first-ever victory in an NAIA relay, edging the Cal Baptist quartet by just .34 of a second. The 2 teams were even after 3 legs, but Azusa Pacific’s All-American Hewko out-dueled CBU’s Megan Leckey, beating her on the final stroke and posting a split of 23.84.
Less than a half hour later, Hewko was back in the water and showed no signs of fatigued as she cruised to yet another NAIA individual title, taking the 100-yard butterfly with a school-record 55.71, beating her nearest competitor by a second. Gibb was fifth in the same race with a personal-record 57.76.
The 34 points collected by the Hewko-Gibb finishes kept Azusa Pacific in second place with a near 60-point cushion.
However, in the 200-yard freestyle, Hill was Azusa Pacific’s lone representative and while she recorded a school-record 1:55.56 she couldn’t stand up to the onslaught of 6 Sunbird swimmers who registered 58 points for Fresno Pacific, which closed in on the Cougars.
The Cougars kept Fresno Pacific at bay in the next event, the 100-yard breaststroke, using Sara Zandihn’s 1:07.93 and Cameron Hagen’s 1:08.13 to tally 10 more points and hold on to second place for the time.
Fresno Pacific finally caught Azusa Pacific in the 100-yard backstroke where there was no Cougar representative in either final, allowing the Sunbirds to move into second place, 7 points ahead of Azusa Pacific.
In the final event of the night, the 400-yard medley relay, Fresno Pacific padded its cushion over Azusa Pacific, finishing third, 2 places ahead of the Cougars, who nonetheless posted yet another school record with a 3:58.11 on legs from Hewko, Hagen, Gibb and Robertson.
In diving, sophomore Liz Dotson added to her All-America collection by finishing third in the 3-meter dive with a personal record score of 223.45.
Only a third-year program, Azusa Pacific finished sixth in last year’s NAIA championship meet and is now in position to register its best showing ever at the NAIAs. The championship meet concludes Saturday with 6 women’s event finals.