When Jeff Dugdale became Queens’ first swimming coach six years ago, he had a plan in mind to make the Royals a national title contender.
That plan came to fruition last year, when Queens swept the men’s and women’s team titles at the 2015 NCAA Division II national championships.
But even before the 2015-2016 season began, Dugdale didn’t want his swimmers to think about last year’s titles or what it took to win it.
Instead, Dugdale asked his swimmers and even assistant coaches to forget it happened.
“We purposely didn’t say we were going to defend our title,” Dugdale said. “We were getting ready to compete for another one. We didn’t want to hear that ‘streak’ stuff.
“We came up with a little mantra – ‘What got us here, won’t get us there.’ We embraced the fact that we were going to have to do something different.”
That approach led the Royals to repeat their sweep of the men’s and women’s team titles at the 2016 NCAA Division II national swimming and diving championships, held March 9-12 in Indianapolis.
Queens’ men won six events and finished the four-day meet with 449 points, 66.5 points ahead of Lindenwood (382.5). The Royals’ women were even more dominant, winning seven events and scoring 567 points, 202.5 points ahead of South Atlantic Conference rival Wingate (364.5).
“When I oversaw the season plans, I challenged every coach to get out of their comfort zone,” Dugdale said. “We had to coach at a different level than we had to coach, because we had to develop quite a few (swimmers).
“As it turned out, we developed quite a few people that would have made NCAAs last year. However, the competition also got stronger and that worried me, but the swimmers that we brought developed at a whole another level than their competition.”
Queens swimmers also swept the D-II nationals’ major individual awards for the second straight year.
Dion Dreesens was named the men’s most outstanding swimmer after winning four gold medals (three individual, one relay). He won the men’s 200-, 500- and 1,000-yard freestyle, setting NCAA records in the 200 and 500, and was part of the Royals’ record-setting 800-yard freestyle relay team.
“We still had to fight for it, but I didn’t feel that much pressure,” said Dreesens, who swam for the Netherlands in the 2012 London Olympic Games. “It was more fun just racing.”
Patricia Castro-Ortega repeated as the women’s most outstanding swimmer after winning six gold medals (four individual, two relay). She set NCAA records in winning the women’s 200- and 400-yard individual medley and 100- and 500-yard freestyle events, and was on the Royals’ winning 400- and 800-yard freestyle relay teams.
Also winning gold medals for Queens were Caroline Arakelian (women’s 400 and 800 freestyle relay), Nicholas Arakelian (men’s 400 individual medley and 800 freestyle relay), Hannah Peiffer (women’s 100-yard backstroke), Zachary Phelps (men’s 200-yard backstroke), Ben Taylor and Parker Cook-Weeks (both men’s 800 freestyle relay), Josefina Lorda-Taylor and McKenzie Stevens (both women’s 800 freestyle relay), and Kyrie Dobson and Shelly Prayson (both women’s 400 freestyle relay).
“By not saying we were going to defend our titles, it kinda took any pressure off,” said Caroline Arakelian, who ended her swimming career at Queens with five NCAA championship gold medals.
“We couldn’t do what we did last year and expect to win again. We had to do more than what we did last year.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.