by Alan Babbitt
From the first lap of the season, the Hope College men's swimming and diving team identified the 800-yard freestyle relay as an event that could propel the Flying Dutchmen to nationals.
They made it happen.
Hope qualified for next month's NCAA Division III Championships by clocking the nation's 14th fastest time of the season in the event.
The championships will be held March 18-21 at the Greensboro Aquatic Center in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Old Dominion Athletic Conference and the Greensboro Aquatic Center will serve as hosts.
The Flying Dutchmen recorded their national-qualifying performance during last week's MIAA Championships at Calvin University.
In historic fashion, freshman Bailey Smith of Battle Creek, Michigan (Lakeview HS), senior Daniel Clyde of Ann Arbor, Michigan (Huron), freshman Gabe Boonstra of Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville) and junior Daniel Keith of Saline, Michigan (Saline) won the 800-yard freestyle relay with a swim of 6 minutes, 42.17 seconds.
The relay broke a 27-year-old school record and set an MIAA record.
Head coach Jake Taber is proud to see his swimmers accomplish their goal.
"That's a relay coming into the season those guys felt like was the best opportunity to qualify for nationals. They weren't afraid to talk about it," Taber said. "They put that as a goal and did a really nice job of holding each other accountable. Last week in that event, they came together and executed. They found a way to make it happen. I could not be happier for those guys."
In addition to the 800 freestyle relay, Hope will be able to swim at nationals in the 200 and 400 freestyle and 200 medley and 400 medley relays.
With B qualifying cuts, the Flying Dutchmen also will swim in four individual events at nationals: Clyde in the 200 and 400 individual medley, Keith in the 200 freestyle, Boonstra in the 100 freestyle and Smith in the 1,650 freestyle.