Lukas Menkhoff PO ’21 was exhausted.
He had already swam and dived in nine different races over the course of three days at the NCAA Division III Swim and Dive Championships in Indianapolis, and was about to compete in the final of the 100-yard breastroke, an event that was not his specialty.
But it didn’t matter. The first-year delivered on the highest collegiate stage, swimming 53.39 seconds to shatter his own program record and claim the first NCAA title in Pomona-Pitzer swim history.
“It was incredible. I was so overjoyed,” he said. “I felt happy [that I could achieve this] for the team and the program.”
Menkhoff couldn’t tell what place he was in during the race, because turning to look left or right could have cost crucial time.
“By looking left, you lose like one-hundredth of a second,” he said. “I tend to look, but for that final, I did not look.”
Menkhoff didn’t know he had won until he saw the scoreboard after the race, and smashed the water with his hands in celebration.
“I’ve never been that driven to achieve something,” he said.
Coach Jean-Paul Gowdy said Menkhoff was one of the favorites going into the eight-person final, but he tried to avoid putting undue pressure on his swimmer.
“It is especially rare for first-years to perform well at the NCAA meet — let alone win — and so we weren’t setting the expectation of win or bust,” Gowdy wrote in an email to TSL. “We had a quick chat about his race plan between prelims and finals and to me he sounded very confident and ready to go for it – which he did!”
Athletic Director Lesley Irvine was proud of Menkhoff’s outstanding swim.
“Having Lukas win a national championship in his first year as a Sagehen was truly something special,” she wrote in an email to TSL. “It’s been an incredible season and one which has helped solidify Pomona-Pitzer as a national contender in this sport.”
Sixteen athletes led both Sagehen squads to top-10 team finishes, with the men taking eighth and the women placing ninth. In 2017, the men were 18th and the women were 27th.
Angela Ling PO ’19 and Sarah Jin PO ’19 were fifth and sixth in the 100-yard backstroke final, Sam To PO ’18 placed eighth in the 200-yard individual medley, and Mark Hallman PO ’18 was eighth in the 200-yard freestyle.
Team coordination was on full display in the relays, as eight of P-P’s nine teams finished in the top eight in the nation, earning first-team all-American status. Two relay teams — Menkhoff, Hallman, To, and Ryan Drover PZ ’19 in the 400-yard medley, and the same four in the 400-yard freestyle — placed third in the country.
“I’m just so proud of the guys,” Menkhoff said, noting that the Sagehen relays were competing against more established D-III swim powerhouses like Emory College and Denison University. “To be able to [place so highly], to put a mark for our name nationally, is just incredible.”
Menkhoff swam 14 events total, and said team camaraderie — combined with plenty of ice baths in between races — helped him endure.
“It’s extremely draining,” he said. “But as a team we really stuck together and really took care of each other, encouraged each other to pull through.”
It was a mixed bag for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men, who dropped from 14th last year to 25th this year as a team. The women rose from 21st in 2017 to 19th this year, and endured some heartbreak when their 400-yard freestyle relay team was disqualified in the consolation final.
“The team kept grinding throughout the weekend,” head coach Charles Griffiths wrote in an email to TSL. “We had some frustrating moments, but some transcendent moments, as well.”
Kendall Hollimon CM ’20 headlined the Stags’ NCAA performances, snatching a fourth-place finish in the three-meter dive and finishing seventh in the country in the one-meter dive.
“It is a joy to watch Kendall dive,” Griffiths wrote. “We expected that he’d be a force on the three-meter board and it was great to see him follow that up with an all American performance on the one-meter board, as well. Kendall has achieved a lot, but his best is still to come.”
No Athenas made the championship finals, but Jocelyn Crawford CM ’20 won the consolation final, finishing ninth overall and scoring points for her team. Claire Bacon-Brenes SC ’20 placed 14th in the 100-yard breastroke, also scoring. The women also won the 200-yard freestyle relay consolation final by one-hundredth of a second, setting a new school record.
Kellen Browning PO ’20 is a politics major from Davis, California. He’s currently TSL’s editor-at-large and previously served as the paper’s editor-in-chief, managing editor and news editor.