ST. PETERS, Mo. -- Azusa Pacific wrapped up its best finish in the third-year program’s history, taking fifth place with 383 points at the NAIA Women’s Swimming & Diving National Championships behind another record-setting performance for senior Kaylen Hewko, who claimed her fifth career NAIA individual title when she successfully defended her 200-yard butterfly title and shattered her own NAIA-record time in the event.
Hewko successfully defended 2 of her 3 individual titles that headlined Azusa Pacific’s sixth-place finish a year ago, and she came on strong over the final 2 days of what turned out to be the fastest championship meet in NAIA history. Her 200-yard butterfly record time was 2:01.41, which was more than a second faster than the 2:02.57 she posted last year to set the record, and it was 1 of 21 NAIA records set during the 4-day competition.
She also anchored the Cougars’ 400-yard freestyle relay, turning in the third-fastest anchor leg in the race to help Azusa Pacific hang on for fourth by nine-hundredths of a second ahead of Concordia. Over the 3 days of swimming events at the national championship meet, Hewko posted All-American finishes in each of her 3 individual events, bouncing back from a disappointing fourth-place finish in the 500-yard freestyle to win Friday’s 100-yard butterfly along with the 200-yard version Saturday to become a 5-time NAIA individual champion. She raced on 5 relay teams that all finished within the top 6, including Azusa Pacific’s first-ever NAIA relay title in the 200-yard freestyle relay on Friday.
“It was really exciting to see her bounce back (from the 500 free) with a stellar performance,” Cougar head coach Robert Flemingsaid. “Last year, the 100-yard butterfly was the weakest of her 3 events, and this year she won it by over a second. She helped anchor our program’s first NAIA relay champion, and then she came back today to break her own NAIA record in the 200-yard butterfly.
“We weren’t really sure what we would get from her, because she had some injury issues this year, and we weren’t sure how much that would hurt her to miss that many workouts. Obviously, it didn’t seem to affect her too much. She may have had just had some nerves in the 500, but once she regrouped Thursday night, she was nails the rest of the meet.”
The Cougars, who finished seventh at the NAIA meet in their inaugural 2009 season and improved to a sixth-place finish a year ago, entered the final day of the 2011 competition in third place with 299 points. However, Savannah College of Art & Design (Ga.) took Azusa Pacific’s spot in the top 3 with 22 points in the opening event of the day, the 1650-yard freestyle. Senior Karla Hill ensured the Cougars would avoid a shutout in the event, taking 13th place with a time of 18:08.18 to contribute 4 points to Azusa Pacific’s total.
“Looking at all the teams coming into the meet, it looked like sixth place is where we were going to end up,” Fleming said. “We thought that breaking into the top five was going to be almost impossible. This was the fastest meet the NAIA has ever had, and it was a lot faster than we expected when we showed up. Our team could have allowed it to overwhelm them, but instead they stepped up and battled some of the bigger teams that have been established within the NAIA in this sport for years. I was really proud of them for taking the challenge and fighting to bring home what they wanted.”
Without any swimmers in the “A” final of the next event, the 200-yard backstroke, Azusa Pacific fell to fifth in the team standings behind Simon Fraser (B.C.) University, the program of event winner Gia Bogetti. The top 7 in the team standings after the 200-yard backstroke held the rest of the way.
SophomoreVictoria Gibb swam a personal-best 52.31-second 100-yard freestyle but was edged out of fourth place by five-hundredths of a second, and freshman Quinn Robertson took sixth in the “B” final to add 3 more points to Gibb’s 14 in the event. Their combined 17 points pushed the Cougars’ total to 321, and sophomore Simone Garcia was second in the “B” final and 10th overall in the 200-yard breaststroke for another 7 points.
That gave the Cougars a 17-point cushion ahead of sixth-place Concordia (Calif.) heading into the final 2 events of the competition, which were Hewko’s specialty (200-yard butterfly) and the 400-yard freestyle relay. Senior Malia Garcia notched a 12th-place finish for 5 more points in the 200-yard butterfly, which had no finalists from Concordia.
The 25 points from Hewko and Garcia in the 200-yard butterfly gave Azusa Pacific an insurmountable 42-point margin over Concordia heading into the final relay event of the meet, and only a disqualification of the Simon Fraser 400-yard freestyle relay team would allow the Cougars to move into fourth. Simon Fraser ended up winning the event in 3:27.85, while Azusa Pacific turned in a time of 3:30.47 that had the Cougars behind third-place California Baptist by just over a half-second in the closing race of the championship meet.
California Baptist won its fifth NAIA women’s title, scoring 616 points, while Fresno Pacific was the distant runner-up with 459 points. The Golden State Athletic Conference produced 5 of the top 8 teams in the final standings, with Concordia finishing sixth and Biola tied for eighth.
Full women’s swimming & diving championship information and results can be found at naia.org.