Hopkins shows program is afloat again at Division III championships

March 24, 1994|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

Swimming at Johns Hopkins is returning to prominence, in a different decade, under a different coach.

Under Frank Comfort in the late 1970s, Hopkins won three straight NCAA Division III championships. The Blue Jays lost their touch in the 1980s, finishing as low as ninth as George Kennedy, the new coach, tried to rebuild the program.

Consider it rebuilt. After a fourth last year, the Hopkins men, in Kennedy's ninth season, finished third in the Division III championships last week at Williamstown, Mass. The women's seventh-place finish was the best in school history.

"We're pleased to be back, but the bottom line is we've got to keep recruiting good kids," Kennedy said, citing an imperative if Hopkins is to catch men's and women's champion Kenyon College of Gambier, Ohio.

Eric Steidinger, a 6-foot-5 sprinter from Winchester, Va., led the Hopkins men by winning the 50-yard freestyle, for the second straight year, in a lifetime-best 20.26 seconds, placing third in the 100 and swimming on four school record-setting relays.

Steidinger might have wound up with a scholarship at a Division I school had he not committed early to Hopkins. Not until his high school senior year did he blossom into a Division I prospect.

He was third in the 50 freestyle in the Division III championships as a freshmen, but failed to place in the top 16 as a sophomore when he tried to compete in the event only two weeks after back surgery.

"After Christmas, I had leg pain and then my right leg went numb," Steidinger said. "They did emergency surgery for a ruptured disk. Before the meet, I could barely touch my toes."

He took the next year off from swimming and made the dean's list, then decided he wanted to swim again in his two remaining years of eligibility.

At Williamstown, Steidinger was one of eight Hopkins men who placed in at least one individual event. All of them swam lifetime bests either in the Division IIIs or in the earlier University Athletic Association meet, which the Blue Jays won for the 24th straight year.

"A highlight was our second to California-San Diego in the 400 free relay," Kennedy said. "It was the first time we've ever beaten Kenyon in a relay."

The women were led by Shayn Peirce, who placed in the top 16 in three events; Ann Girvin, who had a sixth in the 100 butterfly; and Laura Christie, ninth and 10th in two diving events.

"The women were a close-knit group," Kennedy said. "They thrived on each other's presence and had a good team attitude."

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