Jenel Lopez is one of four swimmers who will make history as the first Pioneers to compete at the NCAA DIvision II Championships since 1992. (Photo: Kelley Cox/KLCfotos.com)
Four Cal State East Bay swimmers have qualified for the 2013 NCAA Division II Championships as announced by the NCAA on Wednesday. Jenel Lopez,Caitlin DeNise, Erica Crainand Brittany Rojo will become the first Pioneers to compete at Division II Swimming and Diving Championships since 1992 and will travel to Birmingham, Ala., for the NCAA Division II Winter Championships Festival March 6 through 9.
Lopez, DeNise, Crain and Rojo qualified together in the 200 free relay, posting a time of 1:34.28 to place second at PCSC Championships last week. In addition, Lopez was a qualifier in the 200 freestyle after leading off the 800 free relay with a 200 split of 1:50.83, and DeNise grabbed a spot in the 100 fly with her 56.22 in La Mirada last week.
With their relay qualification, the Pioneers will also be able to swim any individual events in which they hold “B” standards. Thanks to superb performances at PCSC Championships last week, each of the four swimmers will swim in at least one individual event in Birmingham. The relay team will also be eligible to enter any of the other relays on the slate at the championship meet.
The Pioneers' most decorated swimmer over the last two seasons at conference championship, Lopez has collected four individual medals during her two-year career, including three last week in Southern California. Lopez is also the holder of every freestyle sprint record at Cal State East Bay and a member of nearly every relay team that holds a program record.
During the 2013 PCSC meet, Lopez battled with some of the best in the conference and Division II, placing third in the 50, 100 and 200 free, hanging with All-Americans in the process. Her 200 freestyle time is seeded 12th at national championships, while her 100 and 50 free times rank her 20th and 21st, respectively, going into next month's meet.
A newcomer to the Pioneers, DeNise has made an immediate impact, leading the butterfly contingent and making her presence felt among the freestylers. The Davis, Calif., native is seeded 15th in the 100 fly, while also achieving “B” standards in both the 50 and 100 free. DeNise now holds the program record in the 100 fly, placing fourth in the event at the PCSC meet last week. In addition to her individual efforts, DeNise was a part of four of the five school record-setting relay teams at conference championships last week, including a 23.22 split in the 200 free relay that qualified for championships.
An all-conference and All-American water polo player in two years for the Pioneers, Crain will complete her East Bay career with a national championships appearance after helping the 200 free relay team to the seventh best time in Division II this season. In addition, Crain helped solidify the butterfly and freestyle contingent for the Pioneers, also recording a “B” cut in the 50 free at PCSC championships.
With just two months of collegiate swimming under her belt, Rojo got on track quickly, setting new personal bests in nearly every event she swam at the conference meet. A Sacramento, Calif., native, Rojo led off the 200 free relay and swam in the A Finals of the 100 and 200 fly at the PCSC meet. Rojo is now the Pioneer record holder in the 200 fly and will swim in that event, as well as the 100 fly and 50 freestyle, thanks to “B” cuts recorded at conference championships last week.
Head Coach Ben Loorz will make his first trip to NCAA Championships just three years into his tenure. Loorz was named PCSC Championships Coach of the Meet last week after guiding the team to a program-best second place finish. The Pioneers topped a pair of nationally ranked teams in Alaska Fairbanks and Simon Fraser, collecting eight medals and posting 16 top-five finishes in the A Finals along the way.
Thanks to their efforts at championships, the Pioneers also garnered their first top 25 ranking since returning to Division II four years ago. East Bay entered the CollegeSwimming.com/College Swimming Coaches Association of America Top 25 at No. 12. Cal State East Bay is one of six PCSC schools ranked in the latest poll, joining No. 1 UC San Diego, No. 10 Simon Fraser, No. 20 Cal Baptist and No. 21 Alaska Fairbanks in the rankings.
The 2013 NCAA Division II Winter Championships Festival will get underway with opening ceremonies in Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday, Mar. 5. The Swimming and Diving Championships are set to run from Mar. 6-9 at the CrossPlex Complex in Birmingham.