Derek Maas Was The Best Swimmer in NCAA Division III Swimming This Season

When the CSCAA announced their 2024 award winners for the D3 National Championship meet, there was a surprising name absent.

NYU 5th year swimmer Derek Maas, who won the 100 breast, 200 breast, 200 IM, and broke Andrew Wilson’s D3 record in the latter, was not awarded the Swimmer of the Year award. That honor went to Connecticut College’s Justin Finkel, who won the 500 free, the 200 fly, and placed 4th in the 200 free.

This story is not about Finkel, who is the unwitting victim of the vote, and he had a fantastic meet, and a spectacular season.

So why didn’t Maas win the award? While no coaches have declared their vote to SwimSwam on-the-record, a preponderance of conversations made it clear that Maas didn’t win the award because coaches didn’t like his celebration after winning the 100 breaststroke.

Here is that celebration.

Maas didn’t point at anybody. He didn’t get in anybody else’s space. He didn’t stare anyone down. He didn’t fall of the lanerope into anybody else’s lane.

He clapped his feet.

Besides the fact that this was a fairly-tame celebration by celebration standards, since when does the nature of a celebration go into the consideration for who was The Best?

This is sports. The award is not a sportsmanship award, this is not a most improved award, a heart of the meet award, a spirit award. This is a performance award.

I think it’s pretty clear why Maas actually didn’t get the vote. A segment of D3 coaches were upset that Maas came in and crashed their party. He transferred to NYU as a 5th year, afforded to him by NCAA rules, and interrupted their plans.

Maas was an All-American at the University of Alabama, and swam the 2023-2024 season while attending his first year of NYU medical school.

A better swimmer came along, and they didn’t like that. Any talk about the celebration being the reason is clearly a red-herring to cover for the bruised egos.

I’ve been there. When I was in high school, I swam for a very good high school team in the state of Texas. We had a very small senior class, and the only other junior boy on the team was named Evan Ryser. He entered the season as the presumptive favorite to win the Texas 5A State title in the 200 yard freestyle – until a swimmer you may be more familiar with showed up for his senior year. In preparation of his commitment to the Texas Longhorns, Michael Klueh moved to Texas and began attending Austin Bowie High School, and won the title this year.

Of course we were mad. This outsider, who we didn’t count on, came in and downed our hero, and we were teenage boys who lacked perspective on the world.

But my hope would be that our coach would have the perspective we lacked and recognized that this swimmer worked just as hard to get to where they were, if not harder, and that this shouldn’t disqualify him from any honors – so long as all of the same rules were followed by everybody.

Someone has to stand up in sports sometimes and allow the competition to be the thing. Someone has to be the ‘bigger person’ and recognize excellence. That’s what this award is designed to do.

I have coaches, athletes, and parents from lower divisions in my inbox almost weekly informing me about how D3 swimmers are ‘just as good’ and ‘just as important’ as D1 swimmers. A vote to not give a former D1 swimmer an award because he used to be a D1 swimmer belies those statements.

For your enjoyment, here is Louisville swimmer Joao de Lucca doing the same thing after winning a D1 title a decade ago. Nobody was offended in the making of this video.

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ricovado
1 month ago

Did anyone else get tripped up on the anecdote about Evan Ryser and Michael Klueh? There’s something about that story that doesn’t make sense.

Zthomas (doncheadle)
1 month ago

The length of the responses on this thread is over 100 words. This is a D3 thread. Not a coincidence.

SwimCoachDad
1 month ago

Once the pandemic 5th years clear out and it is only those transferring from D1 schools to D3 within their 4 years, this won’t be an issue. For example, Harrison Curley transferred from Florida to Kenyon after his freshman year and still holds the DIII 400 IM record 9 years after. To my knowledge, Harrison transferring to Kenyon wasn’t that big of a problem for anyone. Maas should have won swimmer of the meet but I don’t see him losing a lot of sleep over it. It does make DIII look petty.

swimmermom343
1 month ago

It must be rare for a swimmer to be their college/university’s sole representative at the national stage and walk away with two NCAA titles and an NCAA record.

Finkel must have trained by himself every day since the NESCAC conference meet.

His counter in the 500 freestyle was a swimmer from another NESCAC school because none of his teammates were there.

His preparation for and experience of D3 NCAAs is likely extremely different from any other swimmer that won an NCAA title this past weekend.

Perhaps a more worthy storyline here would focus on Justin Finkel’s unique season of success, rather than discussing who would’ve/could’ve/should’ve won a subjective award and ruminating about the alleged spitefulness of D3 coaches.

SwimmingPagani
Reply to  swimmermom343
1 month ago

Completely agree, whatever you think about who won the award I don’t think it’s super important. i doubt Derek or the NYU coaches are upset, and I think instead of just being mad at D3 swimming, Braden could use his time to instead put positive media coverage and write about some of the cooler stories in the division. I completely understand the swimming is 100% inferior to Division 1, and it is less important. But this is a swimming news outlet, and D3 is still competitive and has some extremely impressive athletes and people.

ricovado
Reply to  swimmermom343
1 month ago

this is a lovely, mature and balanced comment, and really appreciated.

THEO
1 month ago

wow, what an article lol. But Braden within your article you’ve actually alleged two distinctly different reasons for the vote, and the reason matters: If it’s about the celebration, that is so clearly silly IMO. It would be more offensive to act nonchalant and not care. To celebrate is to tell the competitors that beating them is worth celebrating. It’s a validation for D3. And also throughout the meet so many other people did similar stuff. There is simply nothing wrong with that celebration.

But if the vote was about how Maas’ story isn’t indicative of what D3 Swimming is about, since he was someone who chose the D1 path and found his way here for a season by coincidence,… Read more »

double standard?
1 month ago

Everyone is commenting about a D1 swimmer who after graduating and being accepted into Med school decided to swim for varsity team of the school he was accepted (one of the most prestigious programs in the world). I’m sure any team would’ve jumped at the chance to have Derek swim at their school, it’s only a problem since he isn’t at their school.

What would happen if I told you there was a competitor who was committed to an SEC school to start in the fall of 2018 (a year before Derek started at Bama), yet is a senior at a D3 in 2024, having won 2 individual national titles and being a multiple time all american individually and… Read more »

UAA swimfan
Reply to  double standard?
1 month ago

And they certainly were not gracious in defeat

swimmer in the warm down pool
Reply to  double standard?
1 month ago

now, this is a great comment! It truly begs the question of why this swimmer who committed to an SEC school in 2018 would also often choose to talk poorly about Derek in the warm-down pool! truly sad and disappointing!

SwimmingPagani
Reply to  double standard?
1 month ago

Certain swimmer may also have swam a suited and tapered 100 IM to get a mickey mouse “national record” and boost his ego

Sebastian Knowles
Reply to  SwimmingPagani
1 month ago

Damn this guy sounds like he doesn’t have a lot of “class in” the pool

Anonymous
Reply to  double standard?
1 month ago

This is a wildly misleading comment/thread and is slandering a totally unrelated swimmer for no reason.

Just because someone committed to a school doesn’t mean anything on its own. You also neglected to mention that the swimmer only spent one year in the SEC before eventually transferring to D3 and swimming there for 3 years. There is no similarity between the two cases.

Instead of making comments about swimmers who situations and careers you and others in this thread don’t have a full understanding of, maybe you should be celebrating the accomplishments of both individuals as some of the most talented athletes that have competed in D3.

some people make it in D1…
Reply to  Anonymous
1 month ago

It would be a lot easier to celebrate both if this unnamed swimmer wasn’t slandering and taking away Derek’s achievements this season (because he lost).

he was the same level of recruit as Derek, he just made the move to D3 for 3 years (as a super senior) instead of 1 year in his actual class while taking med school and using his NCAA approved 5th year. It’s not Derek’s fault that he thrived in SEC and others didn’t.

The original comment was probably made to point out how people are upset about what Derek did, when the same thing has gone on (regardless of the situation or career of the other swimmer).

Anonymous
Reply to  some people make it in D1…
1 month ago

But it is not the same. It is a huge oversimplification to say they are the same because of level when recruited when they have had multiple years of collegiate training since then. Also sayin they are both “super seniors” and that makes them the same neglects quite a few differences.

What if the swimmer had started in D3 to begin with? I’d guess they would have had similar results. What if they had taken a gap year which is why they are competing later? We’re talking about arbitrary points that people want to call valid due to context.

Let me be clear I don’t think there was any issue with Derek competing this year. Honestly I am glad he… Read more »

Swammer
Reply to  some people make it in D1…
1 month ago

Situations are wildly different, and a simple Google search would explain a lot.

Swammer
Reply to  double standard?
1 month ago

If you look for the truth, you may actually find it.

swimswamswum
1 month ago

I think Maas should have won the award and am incredibly impressed with his ability to swim as well as he did while in med school.

However, I feel like the 5th year rule is most unfair in D3 where graduate programs are present at as many of the schools like there is in D1. Schools like most of those in the NESCAC don’t have the option for 5th years in the same way that the UAA schools like NYU have.

Andy Hardt
1 month ago

Think about how much stronger/weaker/different this controversy would be if Maas didn’t happen to swim the same events as Olympian and 50/1:50/58/2:07 guy Andrew Wilson.

he could've won more...
Reply to  Andy Hardt
1 month ago

considering he swam a 1:44.90 200 fly untapered, having just raced not long prior, not long before another event, having had a whole day of med school classes, against some bum who went really slow comparatively (he had nobody to race), is it crazy to assume he couldn’t have won that too (in a record time)? This would also mean that Finkel would only have one natty this year. The same case can be made for the 100 fly, both backstrokes, and even some of the freestyle events.

If anything, he is showing D3 respect by swimming his actual events, rather than messing around and breaking records in nearly anything he wanted to.

Bahahah
Reply to  he could've won more...
1 month ago

He couldn’t even do it in his best events (besides 2IM) what makes you think he’d get the others?

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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