COLUMBUS - With only 10 swimmers, Brenau University had a small presence on the pool deck at the 2016 NAIA Swimming & Diving National Championships, but made a huge impression in the water.
The Golden Tigers piled on the yardage in multiple races, doubling and tripling and even quadrupling each night to claim third place Saturday night for the second straight year.
SCAD, which brought the full complement of 18 female swimmers, won the national title with 753 points, followed by Olivet Nazarene, with 17 swimmers and two divers (502.50). Brenau scored 336 points and held off Biola, with 316 points, in the 20-team field.
“We can put up a fight,” said sophomore Ella Kleinschmidt. “We can show them we might be small, but we’re mighty.”
Brenau equaled its best NAIA showing despite losing four point-scorers from last year’s team to graduation or transfer.
“I’m thrilled with their finish,” said first-year coach Nate Rhoads. “Since the beginning of the year their goal was to come out here and compete. They didn’t want to back off. They said, ‘We want to still be competitive in the national picture.’ These women stepped it up and did it.”
Although Brenau came in ranked second in the NAIA and hoped to improve on last year’s finish, the Golden Tigers were content with securing third place.
“We wanted to move up, but keeping a place is just as hard as getting it the first time — maybe harder,” said sophomore
Madison Kosater of Macon, Georgia, who swam a leg on the 400-yard freestyle relay. “Just having team unity has been a real blessing this year and I felt like Coach Nate did a lot of good work with us.
“Being able to compete with a team with 18 girls really speaks for the quality of our swimmers.”
Kleinschmidt, of Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia, raced 3650 yards during the three-day meet, surpassed only by teammate Courtney Hayward, a junior from Townsville, Australia, who raced 4,150 yards. Both were workhorses not only in individual events, but also in relays.
“I’ve never swum this much in a meet before,” Kleinschmidt said, “but as much as it was tiring and exhausting, it was absolutely exhilarating and awesome and the team effort makes you feel so good.”
With Brenau holding a tenuous five-point lead over Biola after the second day of the meet, the Golden Tigers had a successful morning in qualifying races.
Before a spirited Brenau cheering section at the Columbus Aquatic Center, Hayward then placed second in the 1,650-yard freestyle with a time of 17 minutes, 2.54 seconds. Caroline Lepesant of SCAD just missed the meet record, swimming 16:44.01. Kleinschmidt was fifth (17:56.94), and she and Hayward combined for 31 points while Biola had no swimmers in the finals.
“It was a great cushion knowing that Ella and Courtney would come through on that,” Rhoads said. “It was a great safety blanket on the last day.”
While SCAD had scads of swimmers who could afford to specialize, Hayward had to swim the sprints as well as the distance events.
“It’s tough by the end of the week, and I’m really hurting now,” she said, “but I did well, so I’m pretty happy.”
Hayward, however, was disappointed that she could not add her third victory of the meet after winning the 500 free and the 400 IM.
“I was pretty nervous before the 1650,” said Hayward, who won the 1650 last year. “Caroline kind of grinds me down, and right from the start, she took it out really hard and I couldn’t stick with her.”
This leaves her motivation for next year to finally win all three titles. Hayward has won two in each of her three years at Brenau.
Sophomore Alisha Hodgetts of Perth, Australia, was pleased with her 11th place finish in the 100 free (53.37), moving up from 14th in the preliminaries. Hodgetts, who has been battling a cold, swam a personal best by two-tenths of a second in both races.
“I wasn’t expecting to final,” she said, “but I put my head down and came back in that last 25.”
Hodgetts swam leadoff in the 400-yard freestyle relay, the final event of the meet which clinched third place for Brenau.
The Golden Tigers placed fifth (3:34.50), two spots behind Biola, with Kosater swimming second, Kleinschmidt third and Hayward anchoring.
Besides Hayward, freshman Lindsay Dowling of Winston is the only other individual All-American for Brenau. Only the top three make All-American in the NAIA.
Dowling added a fifth-place finish in the 200 backstroke to her third place in the 100 after fading down the stretch. “The whole weekend hit me in the last 50,” she said.
But Rhoads calls Dowling “the best backstroke swimmer above water in this meet.” He said once she works on her underwater strokes, “she’s going to get better and she’ll be back.”
After this season, Brenau loses only senior MK Jabbia of Slidell, Louisiana, and Rhoads has already signed a sprint freestyler, Anna Rose, of Mobile, Ala.
Jabbia finished seventh in the 200 breaststroke (2:26:82) in her final race for the Golden Tigers. Sarah Frey, a sophomore from Snellville was seventh in the “B” final of the event.
“Everybody pictures their final race and how it’s going to happen in their mind,” said Jabbia, the student body president at Brenau. “I had high expectations for myself, and I don’t want to say that I let myself down, but I wish I would have ended a little better, but I’m lucky to have made it this far.”