Wen Zhang Lowers WAC Record In 500 Free on Day 2 of Conference Championships


  • Wednesday, February 22 – Saturday, February 25, 2023
  • Pharr, TX
  • Defending Champions:
    • Women: Northern Arizona (9x)
    • Men: UNLV (2x)
  • Live Results
  • Championship Central

The second day of WAC Conference Championships competition kicked off in Pharr, Texas last night, with athletes competing in the 200 free relay, 500 free, 200 IM, and 50 free.

A multi-event conference record holder already, Air Force’s Wen Zhang further lowered his own WAC Record in the 500 free. After winning the event in 4:16.15 one year ago, he returned this season to finish in 4:15.96. That swim put him three seconds ahead of the field in the event.

Zhang is coming off a 2022 season that saw him set three individual and one relay conference record, as well as receive an NCAA Championships invitation. On the first day of the conference championships, Zhang led off the 800 free relay time in 1:31.62, making himself the 4th fastest performer in the event this season.

UNLV continued its relay dominance at the meet, breaking the conference and meet records in the 200 free relay. With Bryson Huey leading off in 19.41 and George Ratiu, Steven Butler, and Reece Hemmens all splitting under 19.3, the team finished in 1:16.62 to break the previous conference record by half of a second.

The Rebels’ time was good enough to hit an NCAA ‘A’ cut in the event. Entering this week, UNLV’s time would have ranked them just outside of the top 10 in the event this season. Two members of the relay, Ratiu and Hemmens, both have NCAA Championships experience, having been members of the Rebels 400 free relay that qualified for the meet last season.

Grand Canyon’s women continued their relay sweep as well, winning over Northern Colorado in the women’s 200 free relay. The team of Emily Muteti, Maria Chatzi, Kaity Carr, and Maria Brunlehner combined to finish in 1:31.34.

After setting the conference record on the 1-meter to start the meet, Gael Jiminez-Mestes won a second conference title in record-setting fashion on the 3-meter. The freshman finished with a  score of 394.75 to break the record previously held by Wyoming’s Derek Campbell since 2013.

The runner-up last season in the 500, Northern Arizona sophomore Casey Craffey qualified for finals as the top seed this year. At night, she took another two seconds off of her prelims time, winning in 4:46.38. The bronze medal went to teammate Maddy Rey, who was the 2022 champion in the event.

After helping Grand Canyon to a win in the 200 free relay earlier in the session, Brunlehner won the 200 IM in a field that featured the top-4 performer from last season. The defending champion in the event, Brunlehner finished in 1:59.19. Last year’s 4th place finisher, NAU senior Haley Mayhew took 2nd in 2:00.04.

With last year’s conference champion in the men’s 200 IM, Panos Bolanos, opting to compete in the 500 free this season, the door was opened for UNLV’s Kris Matuszewski to claim the conference title. In a close battle with 2022 5th-place finisher Griffin McKean, Matuszewski came away with the gold in 1:46.14. That time ranks him as the second-fastest performer in the event in UNLV history.

The 50 free saw just two women dip below 23.0, with Grand Canyon’s Emily Muteti taking the gold and the silver going to Aimee Burton. The runner-up last season, Muteti was slightly off of her time from 2022, touching in 22.63.

Repeating as conference champion in the men’s 50 free was California Baptist sophomore Remi Fabiana. Fabiana was right on his time from prelims in the event, finishing in 19.10. That swim put him just .01 off of the meet record.

The 1-meter diving event saw Northern Arizona put up big points, with 8 girls finishing within the top-12. The Lumberjacks were led by junior Victoria Knapp, who finished with a score of 294.40.

While they didn’t win the event, UNLV showcased their depth in the 50 free. The team had four members in the A-final of the race, taking second through fifth during finals.

On the women’s side of the meet, Northern Arizona continued to build its lead, amassing over a 100-point gap over Grand Canyon and the rest of the field. The men’s meet saw some changes in the standings, with California Baptist moving up into second behind UNLV due to their pair of conference title performances.

Women’s Team Scores (After Day 2)

  1. Northern Arizona – 367
  2. Grand Canyon – 242
  3. New Mexico State – 191
  4. Northern Colorado – 168
  5. California Baptist – 135

Men’s Team Scores (After Day 2)

  1. UNLV – 346
  2. California Baptist – 247
  3. Grand Canyon – 211
  4.  Air Force – 203
  5. Wyoming – 168

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Demarrit Steenbergen
1 year ago

I’ve been on the the wen train since September

1 year ago

Annoying that there are no splits on the relays.