LEXINGTON, Kentucky, February 9. THE Auburn men's and women's swimming and diving teams won six events Friday night at the SEC Championships, putting themselves one step closer to an 11th-straight men's SEC title and fourth women's title in the last five years. Auburn's men have 703 points to hold a 156-point lead over second-place Florida (547 points) with one day to go, while the women have an advantage of 166 points over second-place Georgia (622-456) heading into Saturday.
Adrienne Binder (400 IM), Rachel Goh (100 back), Scott Goodrich (100 back) and Alexei Puninski (100 fly) all won individual events for the Tigers, and Auburn's men's and women's 400 medley relay teams both repeated as champions of their event.
"Today's performance was our best of the meet so far," said Director of Competitive Aquatics David Marsh. "Not only because we scored a lot of points, but particularly because the team as a group started swimming better. There were some really inspirational swims from some guys that have been on the backburner most of their careers – guys like Andrew Callahan and David Maras, who both moved from non-scoring positions last year to medalists this year at the SEC meet. Florida is so deep and has tremendous talent on their team, from all over the world and the country, and to try to get away from them in total points is extremely difficult. I'm still today very thankful for the diving crew that started off this competition."
"We were a little bit better tonight than last night," said co-women's head coach Dorsey Tierney-Walker. "We came into today with a little different strategy in the morning to make sure to make it in finals and then try to move up. It was a good night for us."
Binder was Auburn's first champion of the night, winning the women's 400 IM and marking the eighth season in a row an Auburn woman has won that event. She finished with a time of 4:11.65, which is the sixth-best mark in the nation this year. She had plenty of teammates in the final, as Julie Stupp, who won the event last season, finished fourth in 4:16.29, Hayley Peirsol, who was 13th last year, finished 5th in 4:17.09, and Anne Amardeilh placed seventh in 4:19.40.
"I really thought this was my race to win, and I just went out and did it," said Binder. "It's my first SEC title in the 400 IM, and I was really happy with time, so I'm excited about it. It's a great feeling to do it in my last SEC meet."
In the men's 100 fly, Puninski, who finished second in that event last year, raced to a decisive victory in 46.88 seconds, setting an NCAA automatic qualifying mark and the third-fastest time in the nation this season. It marked his sixth career SEC title, but first in an individual event. Matt Targett took fourth place with a time of 47.59, improving on his fifth-place prelim time. Tyler McGill swam a season-best 47.95 to win the consolation final and place ninth, while John Scott was 10th with a time of 48.31, hitting the NCAA provisional mark for the first time this season.
"I made a couple of mistakes in the morning on my turns," said Puninski. "I just took advice from my coach on how to correct them, and I was confident because I just came back from Europe and I swam well there. I was just trying to eliminate my mistakes and do better, and it paid off."
"Alexei is a tremendous, world-class swimmer and he stepped up tonight," said Marsh. "He wanted to have a strong swim to help prepare him for the NCAAs and I think he had that swim."
Goodrich won the 100 back with a career-best and NCAA automatic qualifying time of 47.43 seconds for his first SEC individual title. Bryan Lundquist medaled in his second individual event of the meet, placing third with a time of 47.57, while James Wike improved from eighth in the prelims to fourth in the finals with a time of 48.08.
"This morning I didn't have the swim that I wanted and I was a little disappointed," said Goodrich. "So I talked to Coach Marsh and set a game plan to get out after it and get on top early and stay there. So my goal was to get out in front of the field and work the turns coming off the wall strong and power through and get home."
Goh repeated as champion of the women's 100 back, and did so in impressive fashion, breaking the SEC record. Her time of 52.34 was a new personal best and broke the old SEC record of 52.50 set in 2000 by Georgia's Courtney Shealy. Goh had company in the final, as Margo McCawley finished fourth in 54.15 seconds, and Melissa Marik was seventh with a time of 55.65. Julianne McLane won the consolation final in 55.29 to place ninth.
"The 100 back is my favorite and I've been looking at that SEC record," said Goh. "I've had a time like that before but to do it here at SECs and get that record was a small goal of mine, so I'm glad to see that I got it. It made the win a little more special."
"When Rachel gets her game face on, she's tough to beat," said Tierney-Walker. "For where she's at right now to get the SEC record is great for her and we're very happy for her, and that sets her up very well for the next four weeks."
Auburn's men won the 400 medley relay with a time of 3:10.50, which was the second-fastest mark in the nation this season. The team of Goodrich, Sean Osborne, Puninski and Cesar Cielo posted an NCAA automatic qualifying time and won the event at the SEC meet for the second year in a row.
"The relay was an outstanding group of four guys who obviously deserve to be in those spots," said Marsh. "There were three guys that are champions in their strokes, and then Sean Osborne, who is one of the finest young men we've ever had at Auburn, and will be an SEC Champion forever."
The women also repeated as SEC Champions in the 400 medley relay, as the group of Goh, Alicia Jensen, Tawnie Bethune and Emily Kukors clocked an NCAA automatic qualifying time of 3:36.57, which was third-fastest in the nation this year.
Kukors finished as runner-up in the 200 free for the second year in a row, posting a season-best time of 1:45.54 in the final. Ava Ohlgren claimed fourth place with a time of 1:46.88, while Chelsea Haser finished eighth in 1:48.78. Emile Ewing finished in 11th place, clocking a time of 1:48.92 in the consolation final.
Callahan had a second-place finish in the 400 IM, swimming a lifetime-best 3:50.08 to earn his first SEC medal. Will Dove (3:56.62) finished 15th in the consolation final.
Kara Denby continued her stellar meet, finishing second in the women's 100 breast after placing seventh in the prelims with an NCAA automatic qualifying time of 1:01.62. Alicia Jensen was right behind Denby in third place with a time of 1:01.80. Abby MacGregor tied for first in the consolation final to tie for ninth overall with a career-best time of 1:02.86.
"Alicia Jensen and Kara Denby probably had two of the best swims of the weekend in the 100 breaststroke," said Tierney-Walker. "That's something we don't ask Kara to do a lot and I thought she did a great job, and Alicia as well."
Joey Schneider earned a medal in the 200 free by finishing third in 1:35.84, and was followed closely by Cielo, who was fourth in 1:36.18, while Matt Bartlett took eighth in 1:38.26. Daniel Slocki won the consolation final in 1:37.16 to place ninth.
"That was a very inspiring swim from Joey Schneider to medal in that event," said Marsh. "Joey's been one of the hardest workers in our program and he's seeing some significant payoff."
Maras was another medal winner for Auburn, placing third in the 100 breast in 54.17 seconds, while teammates Jon Roberts (54.24) and Osborne (54.31) finished tied for fifth and eighth, respectively. All three swimmers improved on their times from the prelims.
In the women's 100 fly, Bethune finished sixth in 53.98 seconds and Kristen Hastrup was eighth with a time of 54.80. McCawley won the consolation final in 54.83 seconds to place ninth, while Marik placed 12th in 55.40.