Northern Michigan University swimmer Rachel Helm a national champion again

Northern Michigan University’s Rachel Helm, right, holds her 2018 GLIAC Swimmer of the Year trophy with NMU Director of Athletics Forrest Karr in February. (Photo courtesy NMU)

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Sophomore Rachel Helm won a national championship for a second straight year at the NCAA Division II Championships women’s swimming and diving meet on Saturday.

After winning the 100-yard backstroke title in 2017, Helm took the 200 back championship on Saturday, the fourth and final day of the meet.

The Wildcats also earned one more All-American and Honorary All-American distinction that day.

“It was an unbelievable feeling to be back on top,” Helm said in an NMU news release after taking a backstroke title for the second time. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and coaches.”

Helm won the 200 back in 1 minute, 57.20 seconds, finishing more than three-quarters of a second over the field, which translated into nearly a full body length.

Northern Michigan University freshman Rachel Helm holds her national championship trophy for winning the 100-yard backstroke at the NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships in March 2017. (Photo courtesy NMU)

The runner-up in the finals was freshman Cassandra Wright of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1:57.99, while third place went to Edda Skoric of Northern State (Colorado) in 1:58.27.

The actual second-fastest time in the finals came from the winner of the consolation final, Alexandra Rodman of California-San Diego, who swam it in 1:57.88.

Helm’s preliminaries time was also fastest, 1:58.15, with Skoric second more than a half-second back in a field of 32 swimmers. NMU junior Regan Kilburn was 27th in 2:03.96.

Helm finished fourth in the 100 back earlier in the meet.

On Saturday for the NMU men’s team, junior Renars Bundzis was runner-up in the men’s 200 back, finishing in 1:44.01 to earn All-American recognition. The winner was Paul Pijlet of Queens, North Carolina, in 1:42.17, though in the preliminaries, where Bundzis was also second, he finished just seven-hundredths of a second behind Pijulet in 1:44.20.

Rachel Helm

NMU junior Ryan Leonard was 28th in that event in 1:50.98.

Women’s team freshman Gabriella Spajic earned her first individual Honorary All-American honor with a 15th-place finish in the 1,650 freestyle in 17:04.30.

In men’s diving, Northern junior Charlie Pavlak took 18th in the three-meter dive.

In the men’s 100 free, sophomore Lajos Budai took 19th in 44.50 seconds. Freshman Lena Soulas captured 27th in the women’s 100 free.

Junior Grantas Dapkus posted 15:56.88 in the men’s 1,650 free.

Renars Bundzis

Rounding out the meet was the women’s 400 freestyle relay team of Soulas, Kilburn, sophomore Madelyn Irelan and freshman Margaret Vaitkus getting 25th in 3:30.08.

Overall, the NMU women’s team finished the four days with 77 points to end the year 16th in the country. The men had 100 points to come in 18th. Together they posted one national champion, 17 All-Americans, 12 Honorary All-Americans and two school records.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is