GREENSBORO, NC – One night after a bronze medal finish in the 200-IM, it looked like junior Matthew Holmes would be adding a silver to his trophy case in the 400-IM. He did better than that. Trailing three-time national champion Nicholas Arakelian by almost two seconds with two lengths to go, Holmes poured it on during the final stages of the freestyle leg to claim Florida Southern's first gold medal of the 2018 NCAA Division II National Men's Swimming & Diving Championships.
Holmes had the early lead over Arakelian in the butterfly leg, but their positions were reversed during the backstroke. Arakelian then widened the gap during the breaststroke portion before Holmes caught him with a little more than one length remaining. The junior from Rockledge, Florida touched just 0.31 seconds ahead of Arakelian at the end, and almost two full seconds ahead of third-place Cristian Vasquez from Lindenwood. His winning time of 3:47.18 broke his own school record by almost two seconds, which he had already broken earlier in the day during prelims. He had been second to Simon Fraser's Rolando Hernandez then, but Hernandez finished fifth during Thursday night's championship final.
Though Florida Southern has had several relay teams win gold medals at the national meet over the years, Holmes is only the second men's swimmer to win a gold medal as an individual. He joins Jeb Halfacre, who was a three-time national champion in the 200-backstroke from 2010-12.
HOW IT HAPPENED:
- Up first for Florida Southern was the 200-freestyle relay where senior Noah Franz, junior Nico Campbell, senior Luka Matacin, and sophomore Talor Hamilton earned the Moccasins their second bronze medal of the meet in 1:20.20. That was the Mocs' best time of the season and less than half a second away from the school record they set at last year's national finals which Franz and Campbell helped establish. Oklahoma Baptist won the 200-freestyle relay in 1:18.11, and Queens (NC) was second in 1:18.68, which was 1.52 seconds ahead of Florida Southern.
- Holmes was not the only Moccasin to advance to Thursday night's finals in the 400-IM. Freshman Matias Lopez reached the B final and placed third in the race and 10th overall in 3:54.14. That gave the Moccasins 26 points in the 400-IM and moved them up to third place in the team standings with 99 overall.
- Florida Southern's only swimmer in the 100-butterfly was freshman Miguel Bernotti, who had a time of 50.15 seconds in prelims.
- Campbell reached the B final of the 200-freestyle and finished 12th overall in a time of 1:38.13. That made him the top swimmer from the SSC in the 200-free, an event Campbell won at this year's conference championship meet. In addition to Campbell, Florida Southern had three other swimmers competing in the prelims of the 200-freestyle: Franz (1:38.75), Luka Planinc (1:38.98), and Matacin (1:39.09). Planinc's time was his best of the season.
- In the second relay event of the night, Florida Southern claimed a silver medal by finishing as runner-up in the 400-medley relay to Queens. The Moccasins' team of freshman Brandon Dyck, senior Luis Jasso, Franz, and Holmes compiled a time of 3:12.23, bettering their previous season-best time from the conference championships. They finished 3.64 seconds behind Queens and edged out third-place Indianapolis by three-tenths of a second. The 32 points earned by the Moccasins in the final event of the night vaulted them over Drury and Fresno Pacific and into fifth place in the overall team standings.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS:
- Florida Southern finished third in the 200-freestyle relay for the second year in a row, giving Franz and Campbell bronze medals in that event each season.
- Arakelian was attempting to become only the second four-time national champion in the 400-IM since the Division II or college division meet was first held in 1964.
- Holmes was the first men's swimmer from the SSC to win a national title this year though Courtney DeVeny had just won the women's 400-IM for Nova Southeastern.
- Paul Pijulet from Queens was the champion in the 100-butterfly in 45.81 seconds, winning the gold medal for the second year in a row. Nova Southeastern's Magnus Poulsen was the SSC's top finisher in seventh place.
- Queens (four times) and Florida Southern (three times) have combined to win the 400-medley relay seven of the last eight years.
- Queens now has 296 points in first place, Indianapolis is second with 161, and Cal Baptist is third with 154. Oklahoma Baptist holds down the fourth position with 150 points, with Florida Southern in fifth place with 138. The Moccasins are 10 points ahead of sixth-place Drury, and 31 ahead of seventh-place Fresno Pacific. The closest SSC team is Florida Tech in 11th place with 64 points. Saint Leo has 51, Nova Southeastern had 46, and Tampa has 13.
Day three of the national finals begins Friday with prelims at 10 a.m. and ends with finals in five events at 6 p.m.