By Phillip Whitten
AUBURN, Alabama, March 22. THE University of Auburn Tigers did everything they had to do — and more — during prelims of the final day of competition at the 2003 Women's NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships. As a result, Auburn is poised to win its second straight NCAA crown.
If this morning's prelims results hold up, the Tigers should amass about 547 points.
Georgia appears to have a solid hold on second place, while four teams — Stanford, Texas, USC and SMU — will battle for the #3 spot.
Here's how it went this morning:
Natalie makes it look soooo easy. Appearing to be cruising at 80 percent, Cal's Natalie Coughlin stroked smoothly to the top spot in the 200 back, clocking 1:53.53.
This is a very deep event, with 27 women break two minutes. It took 1:56.36 to make A final, with 1996 Olympic champ Beth Botsfort (Arizona) getting that spot. To swim in the B final took 1:58.61 or faster.
Auburn's Kirsty Coventry and Margaret Hoelzer qualified 2-3; Florida placed two women in the final and Georgia one.
Reinvigorated after running out of steam last night, Georgia's Maritza Correia qualified second in the 100 free. Fastest was Auburn's Becky Short, at 48.64. This is the same matchup we saw in the 50 (won by Ritz) and the matchup everyone was looking for.
"Ritz will be right there tonight," said Georgia coach Jack Bauerle, anticipating that his senior ace will be challenging Natalie Coughlin's American/NCAA mark of 47.42.
Two other Auburn Tigers — Heather Kemp (fourth, 49.14) and Eileen Coparropa (eighth, 49.43) — made it into the A final.
Stanford's Lacey Boutwell clocked 49.04 for third, while Washington's Kim Harada was fifth (49.19) despite a blown second turn. It took 49.93 to make the B Final, as 19 women cracked 50 seconds.
The 200 breast shapes up as tonight's premier event. American and NCAA record-holder Tara Kirk goes for her third straight title, but this morning she was caught from behind by Florida's Vipa Bernhardt, the top qualifier at 2:09.13.
ASU's Agnes Kovacs, the reigning World and Olympic champion, won her heat to qualify second in 2:09.71, followed by Kirk (2:09.75) and oregon State's Birte Steven (2:09.96)
Alabama's Anne Poleska (2:10.41) and Georgia's Sarah Poewe (2:10.66) both looked strong in prelims. SMU's corrie Clark (2:10.94) and Minnesota's Keri Hehn (2:12.99) round out the final. It took 2:14.65 to make the B final.
In the absence of NCAA/American record-holder Natalie Coughlin, several women have a legitimate shot at the title.
Two former national champions qualified 1-2. Georgia freshman Mary Descenza took the #1 spot at 1:55.10 with Arizona's Emily Mason second in 1:55.33.
USC's Jana Krohn follows in third (1:56.02), with UCLA's Kim Vandenberg fourth (1:56.42). It took 1:57.71 to make the A final, 1:58.83 to make the B. Twenty women swam under two minutes.
Among the surprises: Stanford's Dana Kirk, who has won a USA long course title in this event, could manage only 1:58.24, good for twelfth place.
400 free relay
yes, I know you know: Auburn qualified first in the 400 free relay. Yeah, that right — and Georgia qualified second (3:17.38 and 3:17.72). texas is right behind at 3:17.75.
The biggest surprise was Arizona State, which led Georgia in the second heat for 345 yards. The Sun Devils qualified seventh (3:18.95).
Neatly, only the top eight teams swam under 3:20, with SMU once again squeaking into the last A Final spot.
Among those failing to make the A final: Florida, UCLA and Arizona.
Auburn's Maggie Bowen had the fastest leadoff split (49.53). Georgia's correia had the fastest overall split, 47.78, as three other women split 48s: Texas' Tanica Jamison (48.51), Texas' Sarah Wanezek (48.79) and Washington's Kim Harada (48.88).