By Brian Gordon
GAINESVILLE, Fla., February 16. THE University of Florida’s O’Connell Center Swimming Pool has always featured very fast swimming, and despite not having hosted national-level meets since the 1980’s, it gave notice the tank is still fast, with blazing swims highlighting the action on the first night of the Southeastern Conference Swimming & Diving Championships. And no one benefited more than the home team Gators, who set three SEC, two NCAA and two US Open Records.
Florida started off the meet with a big splash in the men's 200 yard medley relay. Riding a fast 20.92 leadoff leg by Olympian Ryan Lochte on the backstroke, Florida never trailed and touched with a new SEC record of 1:25.03, erasing Tennessee’s mark of 1:25.37 set in 2001. Lochte's backstroke was followed by Will Ratliff (24.42 breaststroke), Gabriel Mangabeira (20.47 fly) and Daniel Penniman (19.22 freestyle). Alabama aadded some unexpected points after second place finishing Auburn was disqualified for a false start.
The Alabama team clocked 1:27.15 with Franck Southon, Vlad Polyakov, Apostolos Tsargarikes and Darren Erasmus. Kentucky (Alejandro Bravo, Kristian Outinen, Daniel Cruz and Tim Patrick) finished third.
In the women’s race, favored Georgia captured the 200 medley relay for the second straight year in a new O’Connell Center pool record of 1:38.21. Samantha Arsenault (25.29 backstroke), Sarah Poewe (27.78 breaststroke), Mary DeScenza (23.57 fly) and Kara Lynn Joyce (21.57 free) led the Lady Dawgs to a full second victory over second place Auburn. The Lady Tigers quartet of Jenni Anderson, Kara Denby, Margaret Hoelzer and Jana Kolukanova finished in 1:39.31 with Florida (Samantha Vanderbilt, Vipa Bernhardt, Candace Weiman and Maureen Farrell) finishing third in 1:39.37. The top three teams recorded the three fastest times in NCAA Division I thus far this year.
The Gators kept on rolling, winning the 800 freestyle relay in a new NCAA, US Open and SEC record of 6:16.25. Lochte led off in 1:33.07, breaking Rowdy Gaines' SEC mark in the 200 set in 1981. It was the 2nd fastest performance by an American – only Matt Biondi’s 1:33.03 has ever been faster. Lochte was followed by Darian Townsend (1:35.17), Brian Hartley (1:34.32) and Adam Sioui (1:33.69). Auburn (BJ Jones, Shai Livnat, Doug Van Wie and George Bovell) was second in 6:21.73 and Kentucky (Daniel Cruz, Daniel Farnham, Jerram Chudleigh and Steven Manley) was third in 6:24.14.
Not to be outdone, the Florida women blazed to their own SEC, NCAA and US Open record in the 800 free relay with a time of 7:00.25. Maureen Farrell (1:44.76), Caroline Burckle (1:44.08), Marrietta Uhle (1:45.42) and Leah Retrum (1:45.99) led the Gator victory. Georgia took second, tying the American record (held by Stanford) with a 7:04.06 effort, (Mary DeScenza-1:44.11; Amanda Weir-1:47.59; Elizabeth Hill-1:46.66; Kara Lynn Joyce-1:45.70) took advantage of Auburn’s disqualification and took the runner-up position. South Carolina (Christy Williams, Haley Skaggs, Layren Fayssoux and Carly Hensel) was third.
Kentucky (yes, Kentucky) leads the women's meet after the first day of swimming (includes diving results) with 166 points, with South Carolina second (131) and Georgia third (116).
Alabama leads the men with 143 points, with Georgia second with 142 and Florida third with 138. Defending champion Auburn is sixth in the women with 98 points and fifth in the men with 112 points.