Arena Grand Prix – Mesa: Cal Sprint Stars Setup Strong 50 Free Finals

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MESA, Arizona, April 12. AFTER the first night of action at the Arena Grand Prix in Mesa produced a near world-leader in the women's 400-meter free, swimmers were back to entertain the crowd during day two prelims at the Skyline Aquatic Center.

While some fans wait for the excitement of finals, the opportunity to run into Olympians and fan favorites really comes during prelims where the laid-back atmosphere of the event hosted by Mesa Aquatics Club really comes into play. Yesterday, Twitter was riddled with pictures of fans and Olympians.

Women's 400 IM
Stina Gardell dominated this morning's session in the final heat of the women's 400-meter IM as she raced to a top-seeded time of 4:44.35. She came storming home in the race with a 31.89 down the final 50 meters, and will be looking to crack into the top 10 in the world this evening with a potential 4:41-range swim.

California's Caitlin Leverenz utilized her standard superior breaststroke to power to a 4:47.40 for the second seed. She clocked breaststroke splits of 39.71 and 40.42 before moving to freestyle. Texas A&M's Natalie Adams finished third overall in 4:51.32.

Germantown's Rachel Zilinskas, who is headed to national champion Georgia after her senior year, qualified fourth overall with a 4:51.50, while Pleasanton's Celina Li cruised to fifth in 4:52.09.

Katinka Hosszu, the FINA World Cup Queen, finished second in Gardell's heat as she posted an easy speed sixth-place 4:54.81 this morning. She already ranks in the top 10 in the world this year with a4:41.18 from the Luxembourg Euro Meet in January, and likely was conserving some energy after a runner-up triple last night.

After missing finals of the 100 fly due to a swimoff yesterday, Sonia Wang left no doubt this morning in the distance medley with a 4:56.25 to qualify seventh as the youngest championship heat swimmer in the event tonight at 16. Louisville's Tanja Kylliainen raced to eighth in 4:58.47. Teammate Abby Chin just missed the finale with a 4:59.66 to top B final qualifying.

Men's 400 IM
Samuel Smiddy, a Princeton commitment from the AK Sharks in Miami, Fla., powered to the top seed this morning with a 4:28.64. Meanwhile, Club Wolverine's Tyler Clary, fresh off some Grand Prix training in Long Beach on the auto-racing circuit, qualified an easy second with a 4:30.30. Palo Alto's Curtis Ogren rounded out the top three in the finale with a 4:31.31.

This morning proved to be pretty slow compared to the rest of the world, but Clary is conserving energy with a chance to better his top-10 season best effort of 4:20.36 from the Grand Prix in Austin in January.

UCD's Scott Weltz took fourth in 4:31.60, while Argentina's Esteban Paz claimed fifth in 4:32.47. Venezuela's Carlos Claverie is the youngest championship finalist in the event with a 4:33.87 at 16 years of age.

Santa Clara's Alex Wold (4:34.76) and Cardinal's Carlos Almeida (4:35.02) also made their way into the big final. Germantown's Alex Lebed just missed the top eight with a 4:35.66 for the top seed heading into the consolation heat.

Women's 200 free
A day after nearly posting a world-leader in her win in the women's 400-meter freestyle, Nation's Capital's Katie Ledecky turned on the speed in a bit short distance affair. Swimming head-to-head against fellow Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin in the final heat, Ledecky captured the top seed with a 1:59.03, while Franklin finished just behind with a 1:59.20.

That's some impressive morning speed for Ledecky considering her lifetime best is a 1:58.66 from last year's 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. She's well within striking distance of bettering that time, and potentially challenging some of the top times in the world this year such as Sarah Sjostrom's blistering 1:56.55 from the Eindhoven Swim Cup.

Franklin, meanwhile, already has been sub 1:58 this year with a top-10 ranked time of 1:57.69 from the Arena Grand Prix in Austin. The question is whether she was banking some energy this morning by not chasing down Ledecky in the final heat.

Chelsea Chenault also joined Ledecky and Franklin in the sub-2:00 range with a third-seeded time of 1:59.81. Her lifetime best is a 1:58.19 from the 2012 Junior Pan Pacific Championships, and she's due for a time drop.

Jewish Community's Leah Smith (2:01.05), T2's Erika Erndl (2:01.28), SMU's Nina Rangelova (2:01.35), SESI's Jessica Cavalheiro (2:01.98) and Longhorn's Karlee Bispo (2:02.51) grabbed the other transfer spots into the championship heat. Chloe Sutton (2:02.54) and Elizabeth Pelton (2:02.71) lead the way in the consolation heat as they qualified ninth and 10th.

Men's 200 free
The men's 200-meter freestyle finale is loaded with some top-flight talent. Anders Nielsen, who also raced his way to the top seed in the 400-meter free yesterday before winding up third, grabbed the top seed in the 200-meter event with a 1:50.43. Just behind him, Longhorn's Ricky Berens clinched the second seed with a 1:50.50.

Tucson Ford's Bobby Hurley (1:50.89) and Darian Townsend (1:50.90) finished third and fourth, while Ryan Lochte made his first championship final of the meet with a fifth-ranked time of 1:50.99 as the top five is filled with veterans of the sport at 22 and above.

PEAK's Tom Kremer, 18, is the youngest swimmer in the championship heat with a 1:51.06 for the sixth seed, while Club Wolverine's Michael Klueh (1:51.63) and California's Tom Shields (1:52.08) wrapped up the rest of the championship eight spots. Olympians Conor Dwyer (1:52.11) and Matt McLean (1:52.63) will do battle in the consolation heat as both just missed the championship heat.

Women's 200 back
Colorado Stars' Missy Franklin definitely enjoys some dominance in her pet event of the women's 200-meter backstroke. In what looked like a warm-up for tonight, Franklin qualified more than two seconds faster than the field with a 2:11.75.

The Olympic gold medalist, and one of the fan favorites at Skyline, definitely has way more in the tank, considering she owns a 2:07.31 from the Arena Grand Prix. The question is whether the world-record holder with a 2:04.06 from the 2012 London Games has enough to put up a truly special, awe-inspiring, mid-season swim this evening.

AK Sharks' Clara Smiddy raced into second with a 2:14.14, edging California's Elizabeth Pelton (2:14.43) in their year for the second seed heading into the finale.

Workhorse Katinka Hosszu secured her second championship final of the night, and fifth overall in two days, with a fourth-place time of 2:15.30. Hannah Moore qualified just behind her with a fifth-place 2:15.99.

Redlands' Yulduz Kuchkarova (2:16.12), Palo Alto's Ally Howe (2:16.51) and Palo Alto's Joanna Stenkvist (2:16.75) also made their way into the top eight.

Men's 200 back
In another star-studded finale for the men, Bolles' Ryan Murphy charted the top swim of the morning in the distance dorsal with a 2:02.71, while Club Wolverine's Tyler Clary earned another championship heat spot with a second-place 2:02.85. Ryan Lochte captured his second A final spot of the weekend with a 2:03.25.

The top three swimmers could wind up pushing each other to special times this evening. Murphy is looking to make his mark, while Clary and Lochte are always strong rivals whenever they meet head-to-head.

Kristian Kron raced to fourth this morning with a 2:03.85, while Cardinal's Pedro Oliveira earned fifth in 2:04.17.

Redlands' Daniil Bukin picked up the sixth seed this morning with a 2:05.18, while newlywed Matt Grevers of Tucson Ford cruised to seventh in 2:05.48. Nikita Denisyako posted the eighth-best time of the morning with a 2:05.83 to wrap up the championship field.

Women's 50 free
Fans are in for a treat in the women's 50-meter freestyle this evening as the finale is loaded with amazing talent. California's Natalie Coughlin qualified first with a swift 25.42, while fellow Olympic medalist Christine Magnuson of Tucson Ford touched second in 25.48. Trojan Olympian Jessica Hardy closed out the top three with a 25.62.

All three of the top swimmers have the ability to make a run for the world-leading time of 24.30 currently held by Ranomi Kromowijojo from the Eindhoven Swim Cup last week.

SESI's Daynara De Paula touched fourth in 25.84, while Bulldog's Cheyenne Coffman clinched fifth in 25.90.

California's Liv Jensen (25.98), Louisville's Kelsi Worrell (26.15) and GTAC's Olivia Smoliga (26.19) also made the finale.

The consolation heat has some top names as well with T2's Erika Erndl, Colorado Stars' Missy Franklin and hometown girl Breeja Larson all swimming in the B final.

Men's 50 free
California's Anthony Ervin broke through this morning with a sizzling 22.34 to lead the way in the men's splash-and-dash, while training partner Nathan Adrian clocked a second-seeded time of 22.61. Adding in Coughlin's top-seeded time in the women's 50-meter free, and that's a stellar training squad of post grads coming out of Berkeley.

Adrian has already been sub-22 this year with a second-ranked 21.70 from the Arena Grand Prix in Austin. Ervin just missed the mark with a 22.01 from the Mediterranean International Meet in Marseille in March. The primary storyline for Ervin tonight will be whether he can get under that 22-second mark as he sets his sights on Barcelona.

Redlands' Joey Hale (22.90) and SMU's Mindaugas Sadauskas (22.94) also cleared 23 seconds in qualifying this morning for third and fourth seeds.

Palo Alto's Geoffrey Cheah (23.11), Tucson Ford's Matt Grevers (23.25), Davie Nadadores' Roberto Gomez (23.35) and Tucson Ford's Luke Pechmann (23.40) comprised the rest of the championship heat.

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