John Carroll swimming head coach Matt Lenhart knows how Ohio Northern University’s coaching staff feels – he’s been there before. The Polar Bears have dominated the Ohio Athletic Conference Championships in recent years, winning the last five team titles on the men’s side and back-to-back women’s titles.
Lenhart admits both will be tough to beat again this week when the conference championships get underway today at the University of Akron.
“Ohio Northern is the program with the bullseye on their back,” said Lenhart, who has won 29 OAC championships since the Blue Streaks joined the conference in 1990.
John Carroll is one of the teams in close pursuit, as the men took second last year while the women finished in third. Making those finishes more exciting was the fact that many of the Blue Streaks top performers were underclassmen, some at their first conference meet.
Last year, rookies Rachael Mizner and Julia Adams finished first and second, respectively, in overall team points. Mizner was named the conference’s Swimmer of the Year for her fantastic showing at her first conference meet. Lenhart again expects big things from that duo.
“They’ll both be right there again. Obviously they were terrific last year but they both came back and worked hard,” said Lenhart. “To their credit, they’ve each worked harder this season and gotten better. Now the field will be better overall and the times should be up, but having been there once the fears should be calmed and they will know what to expect. We have high expectations for those two, though.”
On the men’s side, Lenhart was excited about the potential of juniors Eric Davis and Alex Vereshchagin.
“Eric has been interning with Deloitte Touche so he hasn’t been doing too much competing this semester,” Lenhart said. “But he’s been doing a lot of work on his own. He’s the kind of kid that’s always in good shape, even after the season ends. I’m not worried about him.”
Davis’ classmate Vereshchagin has made a name for himself in his first two years with the program.
Last year, he earned All-OAC status by finishing in the top three in three different events: the 50 and 100 Freestyle events, as well as the 100 Breaststroke.
“Alex has a chance to make the NCAA tournament, and when you look at people like Julia [Adams] and Rachael [Mizner] we have some swimmers who are right there,” said Lenhart.
If nothing else, Lenhart feels that a lot of school records could fall.
“Oh yeah, not a lot are safe,” he said when asked if he thought any program records had a chance of falling.
“I think that quite a few records could fall this week,” said Lenhart. “I think when you look at our guys Freestyles and Freestyle Relays, those could certainly fall. I really like where we’re at with our girls relay teams, and there’s a shot of the 50 Freestyle record being broken.”
The scary thing for teams around the OAC is that this is still a young program, as only two men and three women are seniors. With so much young talent, there’s the possibility that someday soon, Lenhart will enter these championships with the feeling the Ohio Northern coaches have this week: the bullseye on their back.