COLLEGE STATION, Texas, February 1, THE sixth-ranked Texas A&M women's swimming & diving cruised past the University of Houston, 145-96, at the Student Rec Center Natatorium.
Seniors Chelsea Helgason, Brittany Lentz-Raiford, Erin Mahoney (Wichita, Kan.), Beth McCullough (Austin), Megan Rains, and Jenni Stratton were honored prior to the meet for their contribution to a program that has posted a 36-7 dual meet record and has never finished out of the top 15 at the NCAA Championships during their tenure.
"These girls have been great leaders in our program and we'll be sad to see them go at the end of the season," A&M head coach Steve Bultman said. "Each one has done great things for us but they are by no means done yet. We anticipate great things to happen with each of them both tomorrow as well as in the championship portion of our season."
The Aggies finished first in all 12 races against Houston and finished first and second in 11 of the 12 contests to run away with the win in their last home meet of the 2007-08 season. The Aggies' depth was on full display against the Cougars as 10 different swimmers won each of the 10 individual races. A&M also finished first through fifth in the 200-yard medley relay and first and second in the 200-yard freestyle relay.
"We had some people swim some events that they might possibly swim at the Big 12 meet but haven't necessarily been competing in much in our recent dual meets," Bultman said.
Big 12 Swimmer of the Year Kristen Heiss turned in one of the top performances of the day, hitting the gas from start to finish in the 200-yard freestyle to win in a near-NCAA automatic qualifying time of 1:47.96.
Ten-time All-American Christine Marshall cruised to a strong victory and NCAA consideration time in the 200-yard individual medley, a race she swam for the first time all year, in 2:02.17.
Junior Julia Wilkinson captured top honors in an event she very rarely swims, the 100-yard breaststroke. Wilkinson hit the wall in 1:04.37, just a half-second off NCAA consideration status.
Other juniors earning wins on Friday night were Triin Aljand, 100 back, 56.69, and Codie Hansen, 100 free, 51.05.
Big 12 400 IM record holder Melissa Hain set a lifetime-best in the 1,000-yard freestyle, winning in a time of 10:07.29. Fellow sophomore Emily Neal recorded a strong NCAA consideration mark in one of her top events, the 400-yard individual medley, by hitting the wall in 4:19.20. Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Alia Atkinson won the 50-yard freestyle in 23.76.
A pair of freshmen also earned wins for the Aggies. Distance standout Casey Hurrell-Zitelman ran her win streak to three straight in the distance free events, outdistancing the field in the 500 free in a time of 5:02.79. Melanie Dodds was the top performer in the 100 fly, outpacing senior Erin Mahoney for the top spot, 57.33 to 57.72.
Freshman Maria Sommer had a career day, setting lifetime bests marks in both the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard backstroke. Sommer split a career best of 23.50 leading off the winning 200 free relay and was fourth in the 100 back in 59.17
"It's really exciting for us to see a local girl that came up through the Aggie Swim Club to step up and perform that well as a freshman during the dual meet season," Bultman said.
With Houston behind them, the Aggies will now turn their full attention towards the rival Texas Longhorns and the State Farm Lone Star Showdown to take place on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Austin. Texas A&M earned a 174-125 win over the Longhorns in College Station last season.
"This will be our last dual meet of the year and it's with our biggest rival," Bultman said. "Texas has always been the team to beat in the Big 12 and been among the top programs in the nation. Going against them has helped us get better as a team as well as individually. Tomorrow should be another good battle."
Special thanks to the Aggies for contributing this report.