FEDERAL WAY – It was about as close as you can get, but the Pacific Lutheran women's swimming team edged defending chamipon Whitworth by two points to claim its first Northwest Conference crown since 1996 Sunday evening at Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center.
Pacific Lutheran wrapped up another historic day for the program with 618.5 points, while Whitworth tallied 616.5. The two-point margin of victory is the second closest in conference history, behind only the one-point margin for Willamette over Linfield in 1994. The win earned PLU head coach Matt Sellman his second consecutive NWC Coach of the Year honor, fourth overall (to go with five Capital Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors).
"I was so impressed with the toughness and attitude of our team," Sellman said. "This was a hard, tough win that came from every person tied to our program: athletes, coaches, managers, trainers. We are so proud to be Lutes and to have won this championship as a complete team, top to bottom. We weren't perfect, but we were special."
The meet essentially came down to the final relay of the night, as the Lutes held an eight-point lead over Whitworth going into the 400 freestyle relay. The PLU team of Morgan Commander, Hanna Armstrong, Darcie Booth and Melissa Dean clinched the win for PLU with a second-place finish in a program-record time of 3:34.2, beating last year's top mark by more than 2.5 seconds. While the Pirates won the event to pick up 40 points, PLU's second-place finish earned 34 points to maintain the two-point margin of victory and give the Lutes the title over a Whitworth team that had won three of the last four championships.
The final women's standings came out with PLU on top (618.5), followed by Whitworth (616.5), Whitman (559), Pacific (366.5), Puget Sound (348.5), Lewis & Clark (300), Linfield (219) and Willamette (166). The PLU men's squad finished fourth in the conference with 504 points, behind champion Whitworth (730), Whitman (560) and Puget Sound (504) and ahead of Willamette (259), Pacific (219), Lewis & Clark (186) and Linfield (156).
Dean and Natasha Sioda each set individual program records for the women and Matt Wehr and Cody Hartman set records for the men on Sunday, giving PLU 12 new school records for the weekend championship meet. Dean broke a 25-year-old record in the 100 freestyle with a time of 53.27 to take third in the event; Karen Hanson previously held the record with a time of 53.31 in 1989. Sioda's record came in the 200 backstroke, as she also took third with a time of 2:06.0 to break Hanson's 1992 record of 2:06.01 by one-hundredth of a second.
Wehr broke Jay Jones' 2009 record in the 200 butterfly (1:54.38) with a time of 1:53.1, earning his second NCAA 'B' qualifier of the weekend in the process. Wehr's time earned him a fourth-place finish in the event, while Hartman took third in the 200 backstroke with a record time of 1:53.58. He surpasses Corban Elliott's 2012 record of 1:55.3 by almost two full seconds.
Twenty Lute performances earned podium spots on Sunday (top-eight finish), giving PLU a grand total of 54 podium finishes for the weekend. Two more NCAA qualifiers on Sunday gave PLU a total of six for the weekend, as Kina Ackerman claimed her third with a third-place finish in the 1650 freestyle in a time of 17:37.13.
Justin Murrell picked up a second place finish in the men's 1650 freestyle relay for PLU, posting a time of 16:19.51 in the event. Brian Ruggles placed third in the 100 freestyle (46.93), and the men's 400 freestyle relay team of Hartman, Alex Nowjack, Wehr and Ruggles concluded the meet with a third-place finish in a time of 3:09.68.
PLU Finals Results – Day Three:
Men 200 Backstroke
3. Cody Hartman, 1:53.58
7. Corban Elliott, 1:56.51
16. Ramy Carter, 2:08.36
Men 100 Freestyle
3. Brian Ruggles, 46.93
6. Alex Nowjack, 48.0
Women 200 Breaststroke
11. Darcie Booth, 2:31.55
Women 400 Freestyle Relay
2. Pacific Lutheran (Commander, Armstrong, Booth, Dean), 3:34.2
Men 400 Freestyle Relay
3. Pacific Lutheran (Hartman, Nowjack, Wehr, Ruggles), 3:09.68