The St. Thomas men’s swimming and diving team won its second conference championship in three years Saturday, Feb. 18, at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.
The Tommies scored 765 total points over the three-day meet, edging out the defending champion St. Olaf team by a mere three points.
After being announced as the conference champions, junior captains Sam Rauchwarter and Michael Hoelterhoff were ecstatic.
“This is all so exciting,” Rauchwarter said. “After going through a 54-year cold streak, it is fun to be a part of a winning program.”
Hoelterhoff believes that the team’s pre-meet marking as the underdog against St. Olaf and Gustavus motivated the Tommies.
“We were definitely the underdogs, but we used that to our advantage,” Hoelterhoff said.
Going into Saturday’s final session, St. Thomas held 10-point lead over St. Olaf. However, during the course of Saturday’s races, the Tommies were down by as much 30 points to the Oles.
Sophomore Matt Rippentrop was not surprised by the close margin of victory.
“Our team knew it was going to be a battle coming in against St. Olaf and Gustavus,” Rippentrop said.
Rippentrop was a key contributor for the Tommies. He set a new school record in the 200-butterfly with a time of 1:56.34. He was one of four St. Thomas swimmers to place in the race, a feat that Rauchwarter is proud of.
“We were down by at least 30 today, so having four swimmers in the finals is a huge help in getting out of that deficit,” Rauchwarter said.
Rippentrop also predicted that the conference title would be decided on the results of the final event.
“It is too close to call,” Rippentrop said. “It is going to come down to the 400 freestyle relay.”
And in dramatic fashion, it did. The relay team of Hoelterhoff, Rauchwarter and sophomores Ben Henrickson and Max Hubbard took first with a winning time of 3:03.59, nearly four seconds faster than the second-place St. Olaf squad.
“Going into the last relay, we knew we had to win,” Rauchwarter said. “Our guys came through, and I could not be happier for my teammates.”
Hoelterhoff, who was the first leg of the relay, said focus played a crucial part in his big race.
“I did not allow myself to even think about the swimmers around me,” Hoelterhoff said. “It was down to the wire, and I kept telling myself to be calm.”
Other first place finishes came from sophomore Justin Mullee in the 200-backstroke (1:51.79) senior Erik Huls in the 100-butterfly (50.37), sophomore Nick Johnson in the one meter diving competition (449.45) and the 200-freestyle relay team of Hoelterhoff, Hubbard, Henrickson and freshman Nathan France (1:22.91)
Coach Tom Hodgson and diving coach Mark Dusbabek were honored with MIAC Coach of the Year awards.
Hoelterhoff said the two coaches “absolutely deserved” their honors.
“They led the way for us,” Hoelterhoff said.
Rauchwarter believes that this current team’s attitude is what sets it apart from the 2010 MIAC championship team.
“Our swimmers want to get better every day,” Rauchwarter said. “It is promising to see our young guys preform well tonight because they will only improve from here.”
Hayley Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.