The last splash was the sweetest.
The celebratory plunge into the pool at East Los Angeles College last Saturday again belonged to the University of Hawaii women’s swimming and diving team after the Rainbow Wahine collected medals and records to capture their second straight Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship and third in the last four years.
“It’s a very demanding sport and there’s a lot that goes into it just to improve by 1/100th of a second or just one or two points on a dive,” second-year UH coach Dan Schemmel said. “To see their hard work pay off from an individual standpoint and from a team standpoint, I was so happy for them and so proud to be a part of the group.”
The Rainbow Wahine continued their MPSF reign by amassing 848 points — 205 ahead of runner-up UC Santa Barbara — over the four-day meet. Along the way, the Wahine collected 12 wins, including four of the five relays, and set meet records in nine events.
“Last year with it being (the coaching staff’s) first year and … all of the unknowns, we were a bit more cautious going into it,” Schemmel said. “This year knowing what to expect I think we were just more confident.”
The Rainbow Warriors nearly joined in the post-meet celebration after making a run at the program’s first men’s title since winning the Conference USA crown in 2011.
UH led the men’s standings after two days before UCSB edged ahead on Friday and held off the Warriors on Saturday. They won seven events and closed the meet with 670.5 points to UCSB’s 717, a 34.5-point improvement over last year’s third-place finish.
Based on times posted earlier this season, “we were slated to get last,” Schemmel said. “We knew that we were going to be better than that, that we hadn’t shown our cards. But to get it as close as we did was just awesome.
“We’re incredibly proud of how they came together and how much we’ve been able to get them to believe in what we’re doing. … We had quite a few wildcards to work with and almost all of them came through.”
The performances led to 34 UH swimmers and divers earning 92 All-MPSF awards on Tuesday. Top-three finishers made the first team, fourth through eighth made the second team.
Among last week’s highlights:
>> Schemmel was particularly gratified by the performances of the UH relay teams, which won four events — setting MPSF records in three — and finished second in another. UH’s victory in the 400 medley relay in a record 3:36.88 marked the program’s first conference title in the event since the 2006 Western Athletic Conference championships.
“I think it speaks very highly of the depth and just the message that we want to send out is relays are the truest representation of a team,” Schemmel said. “It’s four people laying it on the line not only for themselves but for the three other people on the relay with them and knowing they’re out there representing their team. Relays are double the points so for people to step up and perform the way they did on those relays it’s just a testament to how much they care about the team.”
>> Senior Franziska Weidner contributed to wins in the 800 freestyle, 200 freestyle, 400 medley and 400 freestyle relays and picked up individual golds in the 200 individual medley, 200 free and 100 free. She won all seven events she entered, broke conference records in six and will close her UH career with 20 MPSF golds.
“She’s a superstar and none of that was surprising to us,” Schemmel said of her final MPSF performance. “She has an incredible work ethic and is a great teammate and has certainly put in the work this season — but even last summer and the season before — to have the meet that she did.
“She’s just an incredible athlete and just a fun person to work with and an incredible student (3.96 GPA). She’s just the total package.”
>> Sophomore Phoebe Hines posted record-breaking performances in the 500 and 1,650 freestyle. Her 1,650 time of 15:54.31 was nearly 26 seconds ahead of her closest competitor and chopped more than 16 seconds off the previous MPSF meet record. The Australian’s swim moved her into seventh in the nation in the event.
Schemmel said Hines trained for “only 60 percent” of last season in a freshman year hampered by illnesses and injuries. Even so, she still won the MPSF title in the mile in a UH record 16:20.89 and finished four seconds off the qualifying time for the NCAA championships.
“At the beginning of this year we were like four seconds is a lot but in a 1,650 that’s very do-able,” Schemmel said. “We just made that the goal and she ended up dropping 26 seconds.
“We were a bit surprised at how fast she swam, but we knew she was going to be a lot better than what she was last year.”
>> The Wahine divers again contributed points by the bushel at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center by sweeping all three events and posting seven podium finishes. Freshman Ivy Houser won the 1- and 3-meter events and placed second on platform behind UH senior Madison Sthamann, who is undefeated on the tower this season. Mariah Renteria came in third on platform and sophomore Jami Stone returned from an injury to take silver in the 1 meter. Sthamann’s platform score of 318.20 was an MPSF record and Brown said she’s approaching the UH’s school record of 335.48 set by Rui Wang in 2006.
“The swimmers were outstanding, we scored a lot of points in diving so that was a fun weekend,” UH co-diving coach Mike Brown said.
“It’s been a group that’s been preparing very well for meets. They were the best prepared on platform of any group I’ve had and they went 1-2-3 (women) and 1-2 (men) so that was pretty exciting.”
>> Junior Metin Aydin, an NCAA qualifier last year, paced the Warriors with wins in the 200 IM and 100 and 200 backstroke. He also swam on three silver-medal relay teams (200 medley, 200 free, 400 free).
“He’s just kind of a beacon of positivity and he’s been someone who’s really helped us change the mind-set and the culture,” Schemmel said, “and for him to go out and perform like he did at this meet, and every other meet, helps make the message that much clearer.”
>> Sophomore Olli Kokko, a member of Finland’s junior national team in 2011-12, enrolled at UH in January 2016 but a shoulder injury kept him on the pool deck that spring and all of last season. He returned to competition in the fall and contributed wins in the 100 and 200 breaststroke last week.
“For him to miss training for that long and win his event and swim the way he did was very impressive,” Schemmel said.
>> Johan Sandell won the platform diving competition and came in second in 3-meter. Lucas Cooperman, a sophomore transfer from Minnesota, posted personal bests to finish second on platform and third on 3-meter. Grant Newcombe earned a podium spot with a third in the 1 meter.
Back to work
The UH teams returned on Sunday and those with hopes of qualifying for the NCAA championships were back in the pool on Monday. The NCAA women’s championships open March 14 in Columbus, Ohio. The men’s meet starts March 21 in Minneapolis, Minn.
The divers have a quick turnaround before heading to the NCAA Zone E qualifying meet, which opens March 5 in Flagstaff, Ariz. Sthamann, Houser, Renteria and Stone will take their shot at qualifying for the NCAA women’s championships. Sandell, Cooperman and Newcombe will represent the UH men in the zone meet.
“The real measure is to go up against the Pac-12 teams and all the other teams in the west and if they do their thing there, that will be noteworthy,” Brown said. “That’s my focus right now, get to the NCAAs, go to the big dance and see what you can do there.”