Denison University’s men’s swimming and diving team won its first national championship on Saturday by the slimmest margin ever seen in an NCAA swimming and diving championship. Even sweeter for the Big Red, the win snapped the decades-long winning streak of Kenyon College, a conference rival and the reigning champion in Division III swimming.
On Saturday at the four-day national-championship meet in Nashville, Denison edged Kenyon by one point to take home the trophy. The final score: Denison 500.5, Kenyon 499.5.
The win was a nailbiter. Denison led by nine points going into the final event, a 400-yard freestyle relay, and needed to finish at least third to take home the team title. Kenyon won the relay, but it wasn’t enough. Denison’s anchor in that race, Spencer Fronk, a freshman, finished third, just 32 hundredths of a second ahead of the next swimmer, to clinch the overall win.
The two programs are familiar competitors. Situated just 24 miles apart in central Ohio, Denison and Kenyon compete in the same league, the North Coast Athletic Conference, and have vied for the top spot nationally for years (on the men’s side, Denison has been runner-up seven times).
The story gets even more involved when you consider the career path of Gregg Parini, Denison’s head coach for its men’s and women’s programs. A graduate of Kenyon, Parini was a sophomore in 1980 when Kenyon won its first of 31 straight national titles under the head coach Jim Steen, who still coaches the Lords (and the Ladies, as Kenyon’s female swimmers are known). Parini went on to become Denison’s head coach in 1988, and, 10 years ago, the Big Red women ended the Kenyon women’s 17-year streak of national championships.
On Saturday the seasons of these two top programs came to an electric finish. “The whole experience was just incredibly intense for both teams,” Parini said in a statement. “Every swim, every stroke, every hundredth of a second mattered.”
Photo courtesy of Ben K. Moser