COLUMBUS - After Courtney Hayward won her second individual title of the 2016 NAIA Swimming & Diving National Championships on Friday night, the Brenau University junior raced over to her teammates on the pool deck and said, “That’s what I’m talking about!”
Hayward was referring to the pep talk she gave the Golden Tigers after morning qualifications didn’t go as swimmingly as they’d hoped.
“Our team’s a little bit down at the moment,” said Hayward, who rallied from fourth place at the midway point to touch first in the 400-yard individual medley. “We were coming in ranked second and after this morning’s session we were ranked fourth.
“It was a bit disheartening, so I had a big talk to our team and I said, ‘Come on, guys. Let’s get excited.
Let’s get motivated.’”
The Brenau swimmers took turns around the table talking about what they could do better and how they could improve.
“It helped everyone, I think,” Hayward said.
It certainly did.
Brenau scrapped into third place in the team standings, moving ahead of Biola (LaMirada, Calif). With one day to go, Savannah College of Art & Design leads with 500 points, followed by Olivet Nazarene (345.50), Brenau (243) and Biola (238).
In the first event of the night, the 200 freestyle relay, the Golden Tigers moved up from qualifying eighth to finishing seventh – and every point counts.
Hayward, of Townsville, Australia anchored the relay, whose other members included sophomores Alisha Hodgetts of Perth, Australia; Ella Kleinschmidt of Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia and Madison Kosater of Macon.
Hayward came back half an hour later to win the 400 IM. She started gaining ground on race leader Tiffany Ray of Olivet Nazarene in the breaststroke leg, and then poured it on in her specialty, the freestyle, to win with a time of 4 minutes, 26.30 seconds.
Ray was next at 4:26.95.
“I got second in the event last year so I wanted to go out and prove myself,” said Hayward, who won the 500-yard freestyle on Thursday night. “I caught (Ray) a little bit, but she was putting up more of a fight than people have done in previous years in the breaststroke. I’m one of the strongest freestylers in the race, so I managed to pull through.”
First-year Brenau coach Nate Rhoads had no doubts.
“When she closed the gap, I knew she had her,” he said. “When Courtney gets to the freestyle, she’s tough to beat.”
But he said it was also important for Hayward, who will be the only senior next year, to step up in more ways than just standing on top of the podium.
Her pep talk, he said, “is showing a lot of personal growth. She’s becoming a leader on this team.”
Hayward will have a chance to win her third title in the 1650-yard freestyle today.
As a freshman, she won the 500 and 400 IM and was second in the 1650. Last year, she won the 500 and 1,650 and took silver in the 400 IM.
Freshman Lindsay Dowling of Winston, won her first NAIA medal by placing third in the 100-yard backstroke in a personal best time of 56.71 seconds. Dowling also placed 12th in the 100 butterfly.
“Lindsay was excellent,” said Rhoads. “She’s been trying to get under 57 seconds for a couple of years now, so to break that 57 mark and get down to 56 is a huge relief for her.”
Dowling also swam leadoff on the 400-yard medley relay, where Brenau placed fourth as Biola edged the Golden Tigers by .01 of a second, 3:54.72 to 3:54.73. Senior MK Jabbia, from Slidell, La., swam breaststroke, Hodgetts swam butterfly and Hayward was the freestyle anchor.
Hodgetts, who had four races Friday night, was seventh in the 100 fly (58.14) and 15th in the 100 breaststroke.
Kleinschmidt placed eighth in the 200 free (1:56.15). Besides Hayward, Brenau had two other swimmers touch the wall first, although it was in the consolation finals.
Sophomore Sarah Frey of Snellville won the “B” final of the 400 IM (4:40.47) and Jabbia won the “B” final of the 100 breaststroke (1:06.25).
“Sarah and MK went out and took care of business,” Rhoads said.
Jabbia said Hayward’s inspirational speech was a factor.
“I think it got a lot of people going,” she said. “It really reminded us of why we’re here and what we need to accomplish while we’re here and to keep our heads up.”