Lapping the Field Tiny Kenyon College won its NCAA-record 25th straight swimming crown in impressive fashion

March 29, 2004

As Marc Courtney-Brooks touched the wall well ahead of the field
on the anchor leg of the season-ending 400-yard freestyle relay,
his coach, the irrepressible Jim Steen, bear-hugged his swimmers
and acknowledged the boisterous cheers emanating from the
purple-clad Kenyon College section at the St. Peters Rec-Plex in
St. Louis. Given the magnitude of what had just transpired at the
NCAA Division III swimming championships, Steen had every reason
to be pleased. But the inner Steen--whose motivational battery
could illuminate most of central Ohio--was already worrying about
what he and the Lords would do for an encore.

It is an understatement to say that Kenyon made history last
Saturday by winning its NCAA-record 25th consecutive national
title. The fact is, Kenyon is the history of modern Division III
swimming. By defeating second-place Emory by a convincing 232.5
points (678.5 to 446), the Lords extended an unbeaten streak at
nationals that began in 1980. "In the beginning I just wanted to
win one," says Steen, whose resume contains another item of note:
A week earlier, in the same Rec-Plex pool, the Kenyon women's
team, which Steen also coaches, won its 20th NCAA championship in
the last 21 years. That near-perfect record, however, leaves the
women as only the No. 2 team at Kenyon, which is set in the
charming, no-stoplight town of Gambier, Ohio (pop. 600), where
life proceeds at the same languid pace as the Amish horses and
buggies clippity-clopping along Wiggins Street.

With more championships to his credit than Wooden, Rupp, Knight,
Bryant, Hayes and Paterno combined, Steen has rewritten the NCAA
record book. Physically imposing at 6'6", bombastic, perpetually
hoarse, freethinking but obsessive to the extreme, Steen sees
metaphors for competing in whatever book happens to be on his
nightstand (at the moment, Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved
Civilization). When you're in charge of 63 athletes who have to
wake up in the middle of the night, jump into cold water and swim
several miles before breakfast, military metaphors come in handy.
"In order to engage in battle without compromise, you must find a
place within yourself where success and failure don't matter,"
says Steen, who admits that in order to create fresh challenges
each season, "it's almost like we have to repudiate the previous
year's success."

For much of his 29-year tenure at Kenyon, Steen has had to make
do with facilities that don't even measure up to some of the
pools his swimmers competed in at the high school and club level.
Kenyon's old Shaffer Pool had a glass roof that leaked snow and
ice in the winter. It was replaced by the Ernst Center, where the
Lords and Ladies train simultaneously in a six-lane facility that
isn't big enough for either team.

"To get all our mileage in, we have to hold five practices a
day," says Steen, who'll welcome the completion in the fall of
2005 of a $65 million fitness center that will house a
state-of-the-art natatorium with 20 lanes and a diving pool. "Two
practices per day, and we'll be done," says Steen of the building
he helped design. "I might actually get to eat dinner on time for
a change."

More intimidating even than Kenyon's streak is the inescapable
conclusion that the Lords' stranglehold on D-III swimming grows
stronger every year. In the '80s they averaged six event winners
per NCAA meet; in the last 10 years they've averaged almost twice
that many. This year's team was so strong (11 winners) that
Courtney-Brooks, who set D-III records in the 200-and 500-yard
freestyle at last year's NCAAs, could afford to forsake his two
best events to challenge teammate Andrejs Duda of Latvia in the
100 butterfly and 200 individual medley, beating Duda in the
latter and finishing .01 of a second behind him in the 100 fly.

"Twenty-five of anything is given special significance," said
Steen before the meet. "My wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding
anniversary better than any other. But in truth I need a 25th
NCAA men's title like a hole in the head. Some schools have none.
We have 24."

Make that 25, and counting.

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: TODD ROSENBERG (2) POOL HAUL Steen looked on as Elliott Rushton and the Lords cruised to victory by 200-plus points over runner-up Emory.

Dynasties

Here are the teams that have won the most consecutive NCAA
championships.

1. Kenyon men's swimming (D-III) 25 (1980-2004)
2. Kenyon women's swimming (D-III) 17 (1984-2000)
3. Hobart men's lacrosse (D-III) 12 (1980-91)
4. Arkansas men's indoor track and field 12 (1984-95)
5. LSU women's outdoor track and field 11 (1987-97)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)