Hopkins' No. 1 hope is to be No. 2

March 15, 1995|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

After winning its 25th straight conference swimming championship, Johns Hopkins didn't have to search far for an encore.

The Blue Jays will try to finish second to mighty Kenyon in the NCAA Division III championships, which begin tomorrow at Miami of Ohio. To think of beating Kenyon is wildly unrealistic, since the Lords have won 15 straight Division III titles.

Hopkins was fourth two years ago, third last year behind Kenyon and San Diego, and ahead of Denison, Hope and Union. It has been in the top 10 throughout George Kennedy's 10 years as Blue Jays coach.

"We'd love to challenge for second," Kennedy said. "I don't know the times of those other teams, but we'll be ready to swim fast and our goal is second. We should be in the top five again."

Hopkins began its conference championship string of 25 with 17 Mid-Atlantic Conference titles and followed with eight consecutive University Athletic Association championships. This year's triumph was one of Hopkins' most impressive, as the Blue Jays piled up 1,046.5 points, to runner-up Carnegie Mellon's 575, and qualified 12 swimmers for the Division III nationals.

"We've qualified 12 men before, but never 12 of this quality," Kennedy said.

The leaders are sophomore Andrew Whitney, UAA Swimmer of the Year for the second straight season after repeat victories in the 200-, 500- and 1,650-yard freestyles, and freshman Matt Johnson, who captured the 100 butterfly and placed in two other events.

Johnson broke one of Hopkins' hallowed records, the 100 butterfly mark Bill Milne set 21 years ago. And the school 200 butterfly mark?

"That's soon to fall," Johnson said.

Maybe as soon as the Division III nationals. Clearly, Johnson, who is eight-tenths of a second shy of the record, does not lack confidence. Whitney and Johnson came to Hopkins as state high school and club champions from Hampton Falls, N.H., and Northbrook, Ill, respectively, neither a swimming hotbed. (The only Baltimore product on the team is Devin Balkcom, a freshman out of Gilman.)

The lure for Whitney and Johnson was the same -- Hopkins' academic reputation and Kennedy. Part of Hopkins' swimming success can be attributed to coaching continuity; its only other coaches during the 25-year championship run were Frank Comfort and Tim Welsh.

"He was everything I was looking for in a coach," Whitney said. "Great guy. Easy to talk to. Not real intense but all business."

Another top performer for the Blue Jays has been Brian Ronson, who qualified for the nationals in the 200 individual medley, the 100 breaststroke and the 200 backstroke, as well as the 200 and 400 medley relays and freestyle relay.

There is only one senior, captain Chris Willoughby, on the team. Of the 12 swimmers who qualified for the Division III nationals, all are freshmen, sophomores or juniors.

That bodes well for a run at Kenyon next year if, as Kennedy says, he "can keep recruiting the troops." That is, if he can continue to bring in the Whitneys and Johnsons.

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