by Alan Babbitt
Meg Peel, clear of the challenging two-minute hurdle in the 200-yard backstroke Saturday morning, went even faster in the evening.
The sophomore from Spring Lake, Michigan (Spring Lake HS) clocked a NCAA Division III Championships runner-up and school-record time of 1 minute, 58.50 seconds on Saturday during the four-day meet's finale in Greensboro, N.C.
Peel joins Susan Looman (1994) and Laural Horton (1998) as Hope Flying Dutch All-Americans in the 200 backstroke. Looman claimed a national title, while Horton placed third.
"It means a lot to me," Peel said after only finishing second to two-time national champion and fellow sophomore, Crile Hart of Kenyon College (Ohio).
"I really give a lot of credit to my coaches for the last few weeks of training, a lot of detail-oriented training that helped me. I also had a bunch of teammates supporting me. It's different training by yourself to go to nationals. It's not always the most fun. Emma Schaefer, she trained with me."
Peel swam the third- and fourth-fastest times in Division III in the 200 backstroke this season. She also clocked a Hope-record swim of 1:59.56 during Saturday's preliminaries that earned her the No. 2 seed for the championship final.
Only five other women's swimmers went under two minutes in the 200 backstroke this season, including the champion Hart, who went 1:56.62 in the finals. She nearly eclipsed her 2018 Division III record of 1:55.67.
"I felt if I could stay with her, it was going to be a good race for me," Peel said. "I was proud of my race."
Peel was thrilled to break the two-minute mark as well.
"For me, I felt it was a big stepping stone," Peel said. "I waited for so long. I didn't earlier in the season if I was going to be there. In between the MIAA Championships and nationals, we focused on underwater work. That was the main component to breaking that barrier."
Peel gave retiring co-head coach John Patnott his 121st All-American while leading the Hope women's and men's swimming & diving program. He founded the programs in 1978-79.
On Friday, Peel earned honorable-mention All-America honors in the 100 backstroke with a ninth-place finish and school-record time of
"Meg is growing as an athlete and learning how she needs to do it and how to do it. She came into nationals with a lot of confidence," Patnott said. "The two-minute mark is a barrier. It's as much mental as physical. When you break it, it changes your whole outlook. It's not impossible. I don't anything she's going to have any problem with it again."
Despite just one national qualifer in each gender, Hope still finished 27th out of 50 scoring teams in the women's standings with 26 points and 41st out of 47 scoring teams in the men's standings with five points.
Peel, along with honorable-mention All-America 3-meter diver Brian Simonich, provided Patnott with an exciting and accomplished finish to a Hall of Fame career, co-head coach Jake Taber said.
"This is just about as good of a sendoff by Brian and Meg that we could have possibly wanted," Taber said. "We're excited about that. I know he's proud. This was just an awesome week."