By Phillip Whitten
AUBURN, Alabama, March 20. THERE were few surprises on Day One of the Women's NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships, being held at the James E. Martin Natatorium on the campus of Auburn University.
The first five events on tonight's program were won by last year's defending champions, while defending team champion Auburn, performing before an enthusiastic home crowd, took the lead over SEC rival, Georgia.
Auburn amassed 168.5 points with Georgia second with 123. Texas was third with 114, followed by SMU, which had a superb Day One, fourth with 104. Stanford is in fifth with 81.5 points, half a point ahead of USC.
200 yard freestyle relay
Auburn qualified first in the 200 free relay, but it was Georgia that won the final, courtesy of a monster 21.18 anchor leg by Relay Woman, aka Maritza Correia, who brought the Dawgs from fourth place to first. The Georgia squad of Neka Mabry (23.00), Paige Kearns (22.09), Samantha Arsenault (22.69) and Correia clocked 1:28.96, just off the NCAA and American mark set by Georgia last year at 1:28.74.
Auburn, anchored by Eileen Coparropa's 21.62, was second in 1:29.04, while Texas, which led after 150 yards was third.
Natalie Coughlin, looking to break Correia's NCAA/ American record of 21.69 for the 50, led off in 22.01 for Cal, which wound up fourth. Becky Short's 22.13 was the second fastest leadoff.
After the race, Georgia's Samantha Arsenault said: "We went into this race as underdogs and it's exciting to win. This definitely jump-started our night. The win will set the tone for us.
500 yard freestyle
After prelims, the 500 figured to be a three-woman race. And that's the way it turned out, as top-qualifier Sara McLarty of Florida went head-to-head with USC's Kaitlin Sandeno and defending champ, Flavia Rigamonti of SMU.
In the morning, it was McLarty who took the race out first, but tonight it was the Swiss Miss from SMU who grabbed the lead just before the 100 yard turn. At the 100, only 22-hundredths of a second separated the top five swimmers.
But Rigamonti, whose sights are set of Janet Evans' 1650 yard free mark, was relentless, pulling slowly but steadily away from the field with each stroke. At 200 yards she led Sandeno by 32 hundredths, as everyone but McLarty began to fall back. By 300 yards, the margin was 89-hundredths and by 400 yards it stood at 1.44 seconds over McLarty and 1.7 seconds over Sandeno. In fact, Rigamonti had the fastest split for each of the first four one hundreds.
Sandeno sprinted past McLarty in the final 100 yards, but it was far too little, too late for the win. Rigamonti touched first in a pr 4:37.72, followed by Sandeno (4:39.31) and McLarty (4:39.42). Wisconsin's Carly Piper finished fourth.
Rigamonti told SwimInfo: "I knew that Sandeno and McLarty are very good and tonight's race would be tough. I didn't have any specific time goal in mind. I just wanted to do the best I could. Tonight the swim felt really good right from the start, and winning again is an incredible feeling."
200 yards individual medley
As the finalists in the 200 IM mounted the blocks, the only question was whether defending champion Maggie Bowen of Auburn would break her own NCAA/American mark of 1:53.91.
She didn't. But she did set a pool record of 1:55.33, giving the Tiger senior the three fastest times in history. Sixth at the end of the fly (25.84), Bowen took the lead over teammate Kirsty Coventry after the backstroke (54.80 to 54.89), then proceeded to leave the rest of the field in her wake.
Coventry and SMU's Alenka Kejzar tied for second place at 1:57.28 while USC's Michala Kwasny was fourth (1:58.05).
Interestingly, the swimmers with the three slowest fly splits wound up first, second and third.
50 yard freestyle
The 50 free figured to be a battle between SEC rivals Becky Short of Auburn, who qualified first in a pr 21.88, and Maritza Correia, the American record-holder at 21.69 and the second-fastest qualifier.
Once again, Short got an awesome start and took a lead into the turn. Correia caught her after the turn and pulled away for the win in 21.83. Short followed in 22.11 with teammate Eileen Coparropa third (22.40).
Fourth place went to Pac-10 champion Kim Harada of Washington, who was overjoyed. "This means a lot to me," she said. "It's a dream come true."
Two years ago, the Washington swim program was cut, but swimmers, parents, alumni and supporters organized quickly and the decision was reversed by Athletic Director Barbara Hedges.
It was a wise decision. Swimming is now one of the strongest programs for the Huskies, and with Harada's 15 points in the 50 free, coach Mickey Wender's women's team ended Day One with 25 points, good for 16th place. Talk about a resurrection!
Houston's Yulia Pakhalina, a Russian Olympian, successfully defended her one-meter diving title, but she had to work for it.
Pakhalina wound up with 339.70 points, less than 10 ahead of Tennessee senior Jamie Sanger's 329.90, with USC's Blythe Hartley a verfy close third (329.70).
400 yard medley relay
Thus far, defending champions had won every event. But that changed with the final event of the night when top-qualifier Auburen finished a very successful evening with the meet's first NCAA and American record.
The team of Kirsty Coventry (back, 53.09), Maggie Bowen (breast, 59.05), Margaret Hoelzer (fly 51.73) and Becky Short (free, 47.58) clocked 3:31.45 to break the NCAA/American mark of 3:31.74 set by Stanford last
They earned the win, as Georgia's Dawgs dogged them all the way. Georgia, anchored by Maritza Correia in a sensational, no-misprint 46.86 — fastest split in history! — touched in 3:31.81.
Cal was third in 3:34.95 while Stanford touched fourth in 3:35.16.
Coventry had the evening's fastest backstroke split, followed by Arizona Beth Botsford's 53.14, with both women a little slower than they were in prelims.
Stanford's Tara Kirk led all the breaststrokers with her 58.24 split. Along with Bowen, Georgia's Sarah Poewe (59.11) and ASU's Agnes Kovacs (59.91) were the only other sub-minute breaststrokers.
Cal's Natalie Coughlin had the fastest fly split at 50.45, with only Georgia's Mary Descenza (51.68) and Auburn's Margaret Hoelzer (51.73) dipping under 52 seconds.
Correia (46.86) and Short (47.58) easily had the top freestyle splits, with no one else cracking 49 seconds.
2003 NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championship
After Day One (6 of 21 events)
1) AUBURN 168.5
2) GEORGIA 123
3) TEXAS 114
4) SOUTHERN METHOD. 104
5) STANFORD 81.5
6) SOUTHERN CAL. 81
7) FLORIDA 79
8) CALIFORNIA 62
9) UCLA 45
10) VIRGINIA 37
11) ARIZONA STATE 36
12) MICHIGAN 34
13) WISCONSIN 33
14) ARIZONA 32
15) TENNESSEE 31
16) WASHINGTON 25
17) HOUSTON 20
18) PENN STATE 18
19) IOWA 15
20) RICE 12
20) SOUTH CAROLINA 12
22) NORTH CAROLINA 10
22) PURDUE 10
24) NOTRE DAME 9
24) ALABAMA 9
24) INDIANA 9
27) ARKANSAS 8
28) PACIFIC 6
28) VILLANOVA 6
30) MARYLAND 5
31) MIAMI (FLORIDA) 3
32) FLORIDA STATE 2