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Breaking records

June 4, 2009

Swimmer Jay Jones rewrites the record books. And he’s only a sophomore.

When PLU swimming head coach Jim Johnson recruited Jay Jones out of Mt. View High School in Vancouver, Wash., during the 2006-07 school year, he knew that the young man with an ordinary last name could be an extraordinary swimmer for his Lutes. In (swimming)recruiting you go by times, not like other sports such as basketball and football where it is more subjective,” Johnson said. “He had good times, so we knew he was good, but I didn’t know he was this good.”Indeed, what Jones accomplished during his sophomore season has already pushed his name onto the list of all-time great male swimmers at PLU.

Jones showed hints of his potential greatness during his freshman year, capping off his season by winning the 200-yard butterfly at the 2008 Northwest Conference Championships. Jones raced to the victory with a time of 1:56.61, winning by 1.38 seconds. The victory earned PLU its first NWC men’s individual event title since Mike Simmons won the 100-yard breaststroke in 1999. Earlier in the meet, he established a new school record of 1:57.05 while finishing fourth in the 200-yard individual medley.

This season, Jones shattered all expectations, even his own, when he won three individual event championships at the conference meet and also obliterated four PLU men’s swimming records.

Jones broke school records and gained national meet provisional qualifying times by winning the 200-yard butterfly, 200-yard individual medley and 400-yard individual medley at the Northwest Conference Championships in February. Jones became the first PLU swimmer to win three events at a conference meet since Marc LeMaster took the 50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyles at the 1990 championships. Jones also became the first ever PLU swimmer, male or female, to win an outstanding swimmer award at the conference meet.

By the end of the meet, the man with the ordinary last name had done the extraordinary, setting new school records in the 100-yard butterfly (51.38), 200- yard butterfly (1:54.38), 200-yard individual medley (1:55.01), and 400-yard individual medley (4:07.74).

“Starting this season, I was planning on just breaking my own record in the 200 IM,” Jones said. “In the back of my mind I also wanted to snatch the 200 fly and 400 IM records as well, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be successful in pulling it off. I surprised myself with how much I accomplished this season. I gained more confidence as the season progressed and, in the end, at conference, I felt I had a good chance.”

“Jay came in this year after a strong first season, and continued training in the off season,” said Allison Kolp, who served as PLU’s interim head coach while Johnson took a year off because of illness. “We were able to push Jay in practice further than we did last year and increased his distance in the pool significantly. Jay knew what he needed to do this year, and he was able to swim smarter races, which comes from experience.”

Despite establishing those four swimming records, Jones did not receive an invitation to compete in the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships held in Minneapolis, Minn. His provisional qualifying times in the 200-yard butterfly, 200-yard individual medley and 400-yard individual medley all were more than a second slower than the cutoff for entry. The NCAA Division III national meet qualifying standards have become so fast that even the most successful swim programs in the Northwest Conference –Whitworth and Puget Sound – get few athletes into the national meet. You would have to go all the way back to Mike Simmons in 1999 to find the last time that a PLU swimmer competed at the Division III national meet.

Qualifying standards, already stringent, will plummet next year because most Division III national caliber swimmers are taking advantage of the latest technology in competition equipment – full-body suits. The suits have dramatically reduced times at every level. In fact, nearly every world record now on the books was set by a swimmer wearing the new suit.

Jones, for his part, did not wear the new full-body suit at the conference meet – yet still set four school records. It is reasonable to assume that unless Jones gets one of those expensive suits, he may never compete at the national meet.

For his part, Johnson thinks that Jones has the talent and work ethic necessary, even without the competitive body suit, to take the next step. “I’m confident that he’ll get there the next two years, and when he gets there he’ll place (in the top 16).”

Jones, too, believes that he can qualify for the national meet in his two remaining years at PLU. “If I show the same improvement next season as I did this season, then I definitely will find a spot at nationals. But the faster my swims get, the harder it gets to drop time off my races. My primary focus next season will probably be the same as this past season, which is just to beat my personal best times.”

“He’s probably the most naturally gifted swimmer we have, and he has not reached his full potential,” Johnson said. “If he stays and swims four years he’ll be the best swimmer we’ve ever had.”