Through the first two days of the NCAC Championship, the Denison women were like a predator stalking its prey. On Thursday night, they trailed Kenyon by 40 points. On Friday, they trimmed their deficit to 26 points, setting up Saturday night's title fight.
In one corner, the Kenyon Ladies were looking to win their first conference title since 2008. In the other corner, Denison had the pressure of swimming in front of a raucous home crowd at the Trumbull Aquatics Center. There were seven event finals tonight, and the Big Red won four of them.
The night saw three lead changes but a stacked 200 fly and 86 points in the 1-meter dive would push the Big Red over the top. When the smoke cleared, Denison prevailed by 35 points, scoring 1,839 for the meet. Kenyon trailed with 1,805 while DePauw cracked four digits with 1,087 points.
Denison's first lead of the championship came in the second event of the night, the 200 backstroke. That's where senior Molly Willingham extended Denison's streak of championships in the event to six with a season-best 'B' cut time of 2:02.24. For Willingham, it marked her third-career conference title, and her first in the 200 back. Teammate Libby Dalziel picked up an all-conference certificate with a third-place showing in 2:03.33, and Lucy Roth made the championship final and placed eighth in 2:06.05.
After the 200 back, DU led by 14 and their future looked bright, especially with six set to race in the 100 freestyle. Denison would rack up 152 points in the event, but gained only 16 points on the Ladies. Carolyn Kane led the group with a runner-up performance and time of 51.03. Mary Van Leuven was fourth in 51.35 and Ashley Yearwood took sixth in 51.51. The championship final was rounded out by senior Morgan Nuess in ninth at 52.05. Tully Bradford won the consolation heat in 52.09 and Rima Jurjus followed in 52.29.
Senior Natalie Lugg capped off an outstanding conference championship with her second championship of the meet. Saturday's win came in the 200 breaststroke in 2:17.40. Her other title came on Thursday in the 200 IM. At the close of the meet, Lugg was named the NCAC Swimmer of the Year for the first time in her career. In the event, Marissa Bednarek finished third with 2:20.13. Despite the top-heavy finish for DU, Kenyon went +46 on the Big Red and took back the lead by 26 points with only three events left.
DU would respond in the 200 fly as Michelle Howell also won for the second time after a time of 2:05.13. Krysta Garbarino earned All-NCAC with a third-place finish in 2:06.07, while Taylor Lifka took sixth. Claire Van Fossen swam in the consolation heat and took 12th in 2:11.58. Denison's 110-point performance in the 200 fly would push them back into the lead for good.
It was a 10-point race heading into the 1-meter board but Denison's three divers went 3-4-6 in the standings to push the lead to 61. Sarah Lopez came in third with a score of 369.70 while Morgan Christman followed in fourth (365.85) and Carrie Bookheimer took sixth in 351.15. The win went to Kenyon's Maria Zarka with a score of 450.00.
DU's night got off on the right foot as Taylor Johns and Campbell Costley went 1-2 in the 1650 freestyle. Johns set a new NCAC record in the mile after covering the course 16:46.91, while Costley touched in 16:51.02.
The final race of the championship was the 400 freestyle relay and DU touched second in 3:23.50. That relay was comprised of Yearwood, Kane, Van Leuven, and Willingham.
Denison's championship consisted of seven event titles and 27 all-conference swims. Lugg became the eighth person from Denison to earn Women's Swimmer of the Year.
The Big Red have won six-straight NCAC titles and seven overall.