BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - The Western Kentucky University men's and women's swimming and diving teams each finished in second place as the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Swimming and Diving Championships came to a close Saturday at Rockwall Aquatics center of Excellence in Rockwall, Texas.
The University of Denver swept both the men's and women's team titles for the second straight year with 970.5 points and 820.5 points, respectively. The Hilltoppers finished with 957.5 points while the Lady Toppers tallied 704.5 points.
"Our guys, especially after the disappointment of getting disqualified in the 200 freestyle relay, they just came out with a vengeance and their effort, their determination just put them back in the game and they almost pulled it off," WKU coach Bruce Marchionda said. "I'm really proud of them because they could have easily given up in that situation and it just speaks to their character and what kind of team they were."
"The girls, North Texas tried to make a run at us and they got within seven points and then we just put the hammer down and pulled away from them to get that runner-up spot. They did a nice job."
WKU sophomore Heitor Rodrigues was named the Sun Belt Men's Co-Swimmer of the Year along with Denver's Kyle Milberg.
"He has just had a tremendous impact on the program in his very first year," Marchionda said. "For him to get that award was just icing on the cake for him. He works hard every single day and to see that hard work pay off for him was very special."
Rodrigues capped his first conference meet with a second-place finish in the 200-yard butterfly event, touching in at 1 minute, 47.65 seconds. Lucas Zelehowsky (1:49.47), Adam Pendry (1:52.79), Loui Little (1:52.96) and Neal Rushing (1:54.15) also finished in the top nine.
Hilltoppers freshman Seth Musser set a school record in the 200 backstroke on his way to a runner-up finish in the event. Musser's time of 1:45.09 also represented an NCAA provisional qualifying mark. Adam Dajka and Drew Cato also finished in the top five with times of 1:45.09 and 1:49.20, respectively. Senior Cameron Watkins touched in at 1:49.97 to place sixth followed by Chris Housden in eighth at 1:51.97.
WKU junior Billy Kunkel finished runner up in the 100 freestyle with a mark of 44.78, just one-tenth of a second behind Denver's Dan Ettelson. Kevin Knezevich finished seventh followed by Jordan Vorst in ninth and Tom Gasnick in 11th.
Elliott Lorson was the top finisher for the Hiltoppers in the 1,650 freestyle as was Luke Musser in the 200 breaststroke. Lorson placed fifth with a time of 15:54.01 while Musser placed second with a time of 1:59.54. Musser's time broke the school record by more than a second and represented an NCAA "B" cut.
The quartet of Jordan Vorst, Kunkel, Rodrigues and Knezevich posted a time of 2:58.86 to place second in the men's 400 freestyle relay. The time missed the school record by only four-hundredths of a second.
Lady Toppers senior Stephanie Martin capped her final conference meet by setting a school record in the 200 breaststroke, posting a time of 2:14.67. Martin's time broke her previous record of 2:16.64 by almost two full seconds. Claire Conlon, Hannah Runyon-Hass and Kara McCarthy all placed in the top 10.
"(Martin)'s just been doing a great job all year long," Marchionda said. "We had a feeling that she was going to be able to do some special things and she just had a great meet and finished her last race of her senior year with a new school record. That was very special for her and for all of her teammates."
The 200 backstroke event was the strongest event of the night on the women's side. The Lady Toppers placed four swimmers in the top eight, led by junior Alex Van Oost. Van Oost placed second in the finals with a time of 1:57.65 while her preliminaries time of 1:56.66 set a school record. Freshman Allie Duff (1:58.95) finished fifth followed by Hilary Mishler (1:59.90) in seventh and Laurel Chaney (2:03.23) in eighth.
WKU freshman Paige Drazga picked up an eighth-place finish in the 100 freestyle, posting a 52.03, and senior Kristiana Feeser finished third in the 200 butterfly event with a time of 2:02.10. Both were the top finishers in their event for the Lady Toppers.
In the 1,650 freestyle event, junior Laurel Chaney led the way for WKU with a fourth-place finish, touching in at a school-record 16:44.70. Her split in the 1,000 (10:05.74) also represented a school-record mark. Ashley Forsyth (17:01.76) and Madison Mills (17:14.76) finished seventh and 10th, respectively.
Over the four-day meet, the two teams combined to set 12 school records, three SBC meet and conference records and tallied 16 NCAA provisional qualifying times.
"Right now we'll kind recollect and we'll be back in the water on Monday," Marchionda said. "We're going to get right back to work on Monday because we have all of these different things going on. It is going to be a crazy next four or five months.