On Top At Last! Augusta Lewis Wins National Title in 400 IM
Greensboro, N.C. - Augusta Lewis came into Thursday's NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships with four All-America performances to her credit, finishing second, third, fourth and fifth in her last four events.
She can now add a first.
Lewis won the national championship in the 400-yard individual medley, the event in which she finished second a year ago, on Thursday afternoon at the Greensboro Aquatics Center. Lewis touched the wall in 4:15.73 to win the race by almost three full seconds over Neely Burns of Trinity, who ended in 4:18.50. The time was over two seconds faster than Lewis had ever swam it before (4:18.06 last year), and remarkably it was almost eight seconds faster than she swam it in prelims in the morning, when she clocked a 4:23.52, which was perilously on the cusp of enabling her to qualify for the championship finals at all.
After anxiously waiting out the results of prelims to be sure that time was good enough to make the top eight (she finished seventh), Lewis took advantage of the opportunity with the fastest swim of her career. She trailed throughout the first half of the race, as Sophia Verkleeren of Williams was two seconds ahead of her at the midway point (2:02.87 to 2:04.98).
However, the breaststroke leg came third, which has traditionally been Lewis' strongest, after finishing fourth last year at the NCAA Division III Championships in the 200-yard breaststroke, and she made up the ground and then some, swimming 4.5 seconds faster than Verkleeren to surge in front from her outside lane. She merely grew that advantage over the last 100 in the freestyle, swimming a 28.99 over the final 50 yards, while Verkleeren swam a 31.10, and Burns swam a 29.93 to move into second.
"In prelims, I had a really tough race," Lewis said. "I was just telling myself, 'I have a lane ... you still got this, you're still in this.' I'm just really grateful for the opportunity to be here. I just want to thank all my teammates and my family for supporting me. I just can't believe that this happened."
Getting to the top of the podium was a triumphant moment for Lewis, who returned to CMS for her fifth and final season this winter, taking off the fall semester in order to come back for her COVID year, and her final attempt at winning a national title. That goal felt like it might be slipping away, after she finished fifth yesterday in the 200 IM, and was seventh in the prelims for the 400 IM, but she saved her best swim for when it counted most.
It wasn't saving her best for last, though, as she will be in action again tomorrow in the 200-yard butterfly, trying to add another All-America award or national championship in a different event.
Jameson Mitchum, Mackenzie Mayfield, Sun Young Byun and Lexi Punishill reached the consolation final after finishing 16th in prelims to earn the last spot in the evening session. Ella Blake narrowly missed the evening in the 200 free, finishing 18th in 1:51.94, while Byun (56.16) and Mayfield (56.27), were 27th and 30th in the 100 fly.