The Hillsdale College women swim team swam great times and took fourth place against the best competition they’ve face all year at a meet in Grand Rapids on Dec. 1 through Dec. 3.
“It was the highest we’ve placed since I’ve been here,” senior Linda Okonkowski said of their performance at the Calvin College Invite.
Juggernaut Grand Valley State University ran away with the meet, finishing with 980 points, well ahead of second place Indianapolis University who notched 661 points. Despite being beaten by Hillsdale earlier in the season, Northern Michigan University snuck ahead of the Chargers with 466 points. Hillsdale scored 424 points thanks largely to a number of swimmer’s stellar individual performances.
The Chargers, said head coach Kurt Kirner, were well prepared for the meet but swam slightly slower than expected times in the preliminary races Friday morning. The team made adjustments for Saturday and in 64 individual races, 60 proved to be season bests for the women.
Unlike dual meets in which Hillsdale’s extraordinary depth makes a huge difference, winning the Calvin Invitational depends on top point scores.
“In a big meet, depth is watered down,” Kirner said. “It doesn’t go as far.”
While nearly everyone on the team swam a season best at Calvin, several swimmers were able to record top finishes, including Okonkowski, senior Catherine Shilka, and freshman Rachael Kurtz.
Okonkowski earned five B‑cuts toward nationals, including an impressive first-place finish in the 200-yard IM with a time a 2:08.80.
“She is a big meet swimmer,” Kirner said. “She keeps getting stronger.”
For Okonkowski, B‑cuts won’t ensure her a trip back to nationals as they are only provisional qualifying times, but she is confident that when she’s fully tapered, those faster times will come.
Shilka took second in the 200-yard butterfly in what Kirner called an impressive race.
Kurtz took third in the 100-yard freestyle at 52.91.
“I was very happy with the time,” Kurtz said.
Kirner hasn’t coached a sprinter this fast in a number of years, he said.
Among Hillsdale’s relay teams, the 200-yard medley team, composed of junior Sports Editor Sarah Leitner, freshman Kate Smith, Okonkowski and Kurtz, placed the highest at fifth. Their time of 1:49.97 was a season best.
Team members agreed the weekend prepared them well for conference meet in February.
“It is going to put us in a good position for GLIACs,” Okonkowski said.
The Chargers will get little reprieve heading into Christmas break. The athletes will be swimming independently in hometown pools or with former swim clubs and will be reporting their workouts back to Kirner daily.
On Jan. 3 they will come back to campus, where they will leave for their annual training trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Training in Fort Lauderdale will be rigorous, said Kirner, and will include opportunities to compete in some meets.
“It’s going to be really hard training-wise, but it’s a good group of girls, and it’s going to be a fun week and a half in the sun,” said Kurtz.
The Chargers next official meet will be against the University of Indianapolis on Jan. 14.