WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana, March 18. GEORGIA entered Day Two with a 74-point lead over defending champion Auburn, with Arizona another 17 points back from the Tigers.
The Bulldogs did nothing to hurt their chances with a fine morning that included the lead qualifier in three individual races (100 fly – Mary DeScenza; 200 free – Kara Lynn Joyce extending up from the sprints; and 100 breast – surprising senior Lindsay Ertter joining the select club of sub-60 second performers) and a 1-2 showing in two of those.
But that doesn’t mean the meet is locked up.
Auburn coach Dave Marsh yesterday described his squad as performing well, at a B or B+ level, while Georgia had started out extremely well. Marsh said to get back into the meet his charges would have to perform at an A+ level Friday morning. Well, it probably wasn’t an A+, but it might be considered an A and still allow hope.
And one of the squads in the next tier of clubs, Arizona, fired up its engines to at least be able to consider a challenge to Auburn; but the Tigers still have the top spot in their dreams, hoping for #4 in a row.
Georgia picked up six A-finals and six B-finals for tonight, while Auburn got seven A finals and six B finals, but this could be where a Georgia strength may be an Achilles heel. Their folks are qualified at the top of their heats whereas Auburn has more swimmers in positions where potential to move up and increase point scoring exists, if Marsh can work the Auburn team magic, and that A+ session comes on. Off of the morning swims, and including scoring on the timed final 800 free relay based on seeding, Georgia scores 207 points, Auburn 186 and Arizona 163. This does not include the 3-meter diving event, which is in its preliminaries as this is being written.
That session differential can disappear extremely quickly and start cutting into the Bulldogs’ 74-point lead in actual points if the Dawgs slip at all, and Auburn responds. For example, Auburn’s event leader, Kirsty Coventry in the 400 IM, is likely a more solid choice to maintain her position than Georgia leaders such as Joyce, who is stretched to reach the 200 distance, and faces Auburn’s defending champion Margaret Hoelzer lurking back in the 3rd qualifying position.
And in the 100 breaststroke the Dawgs had great performances, but Auburn’s freshman Kara Denby snuck into the B final in 16th spot – absent dq she cannot go down – and based on the qualifying she is only .59 seconds outside of improving from 1 to 9 points. Georgia’s top two, Ertter and Poewe, swam very well but their point total cannot go up, whereas it can certainly go down. Ertter has had a long and distinguished career, with a bushel full of finals across the years in major domestic competition, but they most commonly have resulted in finishes between 3rd and 6th. She faces an important challenge, both for herself and for her Georgia teammates, to maintain the breakthrough performance she attained this morning.
The relays are subject to big swings as well. Both Arizona and Georgia put arguably their top legs up on the front three but have the potential to up the ante on their anchors. Georgia has 50 champ Joyce and Arizona has freshman Lacey Nymeyer (21.63 anchoring U of A’s 4 x 50 free), but each of them are facing and individual 200 and a relay 200 further on in the sessions. Coaches Bauerle and Busch face tough decisions. Auburn, though, only qualified 7th and could swap out three or even all four legs depending on how he intends to use/rest his stars. The 800 relay is a real puzzle, primarily because #1 seed Florida has not performed anywhere near its stellar conference level, to date.