By Michael Stewart, Assistant Sports Editor
The Oklahoma Baptist men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams took part in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Championships in Lewisville, Texas beginning Wednesday, February 13 and competing through Saturday, February 16.
Heading into the event, the Bison were ranked 22nd in both men’s and women’s polls, according to Collegeswimming.com.
Two other RMAC schools – California Baptist and Colorado Mesa – were ranked in the top 20 in national polls, just ahead of the Lady Bison and Bison. This set the stage for an epic, heavyweight bout in the conference championships.
OBU knew they were going to be competing against some of the top swim and dive teams in the region.
“We were expecting a dog fight from the very beginning,” junior Austin Saunders said. “Everyone knew they were going to have to give everything they had to reach our common goal of winning the conference title.”
The Bison and Lady Bison showed up ready to compete, earning several top finishes in the opening day of the event. OBU won both the men’s and women’s 200-yard medley relays, keeping its winning streak alive in the event.
The women’s relay team consisting of sophomore Madelyne Carson, sophomore Victoria Fonville, sophomore Juliana Cifuentes, and sophomore Julia Day finished at 1:43.24, nearly two full seconds ahead of the second-place Colorado School of Mines team.
The men’s relay team of sophomore Robinson Molina, junior Felipe Zapata, sophomore Davion Conley, and Gabriel Knaut finished at 1:28.25, which was a half-second faster than second-place Colorado Mesa.
Additionally, OBU earned a first-place finish in the women’s 200-yard IM by freshman Marziel Van Jaarsveld and by Fonville in the 50-yard free. Van Jaarsveld cruised to victory, finishing with a time of 2:01.62, which was three seconds better than the second-place winner.
However, Fonville inched out her opponents by 0.007 seconds with a time of 2:81 in the 50 free.
“This team is very special because of the team’s chemistry and support,” Van Jaarsveld said. “We always stand with each other and push one another.”
The second day saw more success for OBU in the event.
The women’s relay team again saw great success in day two, winning both the 200 freestyle and the 400–medley.
The 200 team of freshman Jamie Edwards, Fonville, Day, and Van Jaarsveld finished in 1:33.04. In the 400–medley relay, the team of Cifuentes, Fonville, Day, and Van Jaarsveld secured another victory, finishing with a time of 3:48.91. Also, Van Jaarsveld finished first in the 400 IM.
“The way our team pushes through adversity is really amazing,” Saunders said. “I’m really proud of the way our team showed up.”
The Bison also saw great success in day two.
The men’s 200 freestyle team secured a win with a time of 1:21.12. The team consisted of Molina, Saunders, Gabriel Knaut, junior Alex Leff. The same group finished two-tenths of a second slower than Colorado Mesa in the 400 IM relay and earned second place.
During the day, sophomore Alfredo Arrieche competed in the 1000–yard freestyle event and although he came in second place, his performance did not go unnoticed.
“From the very beginning he had taken the lead in such a long race and absolutely made it his race,” Saunders said. “Although he took second place in the event, the courage it took to go all out right off the bat showed his character and passion for swimming.”
With momentum building, the Lady Bison and Bison entered day three still hungry for more success.
On the women’s side, Van Jaarsveld took home her third individual race, finishing first in the 200 Butterfly, finishing with a time of 2:01.83.
Additionally, Cifeuntes edged teammate Fonville at the wall to win the 100 Backstroke. Cifuentes touched the wall in 1:02.53, a half a second faster than Fonville’s 1:03.10.
On the men’s side, Molina added another win to his total after taking the 100 Backstroke with a time of 47.71. Freshman Jordan Atkins secured a first–place finish in the 100 IM with a time of 56.75.
“We’ve been working all year,” senior Jonathon Stewart said. “I’m really proud of the team’s efforts.”
In the final day of the competition, the Bison and Lady Bison brought all the energy and focus they had, and it paid off in a big way. In the end, OBU finished the competition with five first-place finishes.
For the women, OBU’s Van Jaarsveld shared the women’s top performer award with Western State’s Randi Yarnell.
The two swimmers ended the competition with 77 points in total. Also, Van Jaarsveld finished second in the 100 backstroke and was a part of the winning 4 X 400 freestyle relay team. She joined teammates Fonville, Edwards, and senior Miram Avilla in a second-place finish.
OBU finished the race with a time of 3:25.61, which qualified OBU for the NCAA Division II Championships next month.
For the men, freshman Drew Dickson was the top swimmer for the Bison. He ended the competition in eighth place with 67 points.
Dickson secured a win in the 200 backstroke after finishing more than one-second ahead of the pack. He joined teammates Molina, Knaut, and junior Ryan Walker as the mens’ 4 X 400 freestyle relay winner.
Lastly, junior Genesis Veliz, the defending NCAA Division II champion, will have the opportunity to defend her title after winning the RMAC 3-Meter diving competition.
“We had some amazing performances throughout the competition,” Stewart said. “Despite all of the adversity and the things not going our way, we still competed at a high level.”
Next up for the OBU swimming and diving teams is the Texas A&M University Last Chance Meet in College Station, Texas beginning Friday, February 22.