GETTYSBURG, Pa. – The Ursinus College women's swimming team opened up a six-pack on the final day of the Centennial Conference championship, and nothing ever tasted so sweet.
The Bears racked up three more gold medals and yet another record-breaking relay en route to their sixth consecutive conference crown, continuing a reign of dominance rivaled only by the Gettysburg squads of the late 1990's, which captured seven in a row.
Freshman Sophie Lear was named the meet's Most Outstanding Performer and Most Outstanding Rookie Performer after winning gold in the 50 free, 100 free, and 100 breast and contributing to four first-place relays. Lear joins senior teammate Peyten Lyons as the only two swimmers in CC history to garner both awards at the championship meet.
The margin of victory – 140.5 points – fell well short of last year's wide discrepancy, but the final numbers were no less staggering. The Bears won all five relays, rewriting the conference and championship meet record book in four of them. All told, eight of Ursinus' 14 gold medals over the four-day championship came with new conference records attached, and the program record books will need even more extensive editing at season's end.
After three years of being blocked by Meggie Leitz '18, senior Clara Baker finally had her moment to shine in the 200 fly, one of the few events she had yet to conquer on the championship stage. She made it look easy, rolling to her first career gold in the event with a B-cut mark of 2:04.84, well over two seconds ahead of Swarthmore runner-up Liz Gallagher.
Freshman Katie Schultz put a bow on a sensational championship with a silver medal in the 1650 free, where she registered a B-cut clocking of 17:20.30. It was the third individual medal for Schultz, who won gold with a CC record in the 400 IM and added another silver in the 500 free. Senior Kathryn Longenecker grabbed ninth place at 18:17.62, and sophomore Gabriela Howell was 12th (18:42.45).
Lyons and sophomore Sophie May – last year's most outstanding rookie performer – were terrific in the 200 back, ceding the gold to Dickinson's Katie Schmidt but happily settling for silver and bronze, respectively. Lyons was about a half-second behind Schmidt with a 2:04.56, while May beat Gettysburg's Megan Wojnar to the podium by just over a tenth of a tick. Senior Caroline Powell recorded a personal-best 2:09.79 in prelims and placed eighth with a 2:11.38 in the final; classmate Katherine Madden won the B final and finished ninth at 2:10.07, which would have been good for sixth in the main event.
Lear picked up her third individual gold of the weekend with a stirring swim in the 100 free, holding off a strong challenge from McDaniel's Blair Boyle with a championship meet record of 51.89, her third personal gold of the weekend. Sophomore Katherine Kurzinsky picked up a bronze medal with a personal-best 52.90, and freshman Liv Rachael wound up sixth at 53.87.
Junior Haley Sturla made a run at her first career individual championship in the 200 breast, ultimately winning silver with a time of 2:24.98.
In a fitting end to a sixth consecutive title, the 400 free relay grouping of May, Baker, Lyons, and Lear set a new conference record with a 3:28.61, another NCAA B-cut.
Though the mission has been accomplished, the Bears' season is far from over. Ursinus will bring another large contingent of swimmers to the NCAA championships, which will be held March 20-23 in Greensboro, North Carolina.