By Bill Bell
FEDERAL WAY, WA., Feb. 24. THE 'CATS are champs but the only way you'd know it is by looking at the scoreboard.
For the second-consecutive year Coach Frank Busch's Arizona Lady Wildcats are the "queens" of the Pac-10, winning the title they first splashed to last season here this evening with a hard-fought 1130-1099.5 victory over UCLA — the Bruins' highest finish ever.
But for perhaps the first time in conference history, the winning team scored nary an individual win in any event and scored only one victory overall — the concluding 400 freestyle relay.
The meet was highlighted by the performances of a pair of talented Californians, Cal freshman Natalie Coughlin — who set a pair of American records in the 100-200 yard backstrokes — and Stanford senior Misty Hyman, Sydney Olympic gold medalist in the 200 fly, who won three individual races and swam on a quartet of victorious relays.
In looking over the results, that Stanford with eight individual winners — three by Hyman), two by breaststroker Tara Kirk, one by Shelly Ripple (200 IM), and a pair by distance ace Jessica Foschi (500-1650 frees) — plus four of five relay wins and a diver who captured both boards — should fail to win with this kind of talent just reiterates the importance of depth. Keep picking up those thirds, fourths, fifths and sixths, an occasional second (Amanda Beard in both breaststrokes) and when the meet is scored to 16 places you're in good shape.
Coughlin, who had been undefeated throughout the season in 18 individual races and came into the meet leading the country in a half-dozen events, lost her only races on opening day when Ripple ripped a pr 1:57.83 to Coughlin's pr (and girls' 17-18 NAG record) 1:58.13 in the 200 IM and Hyman beat her in the 100 fly, 51.83 to Coughlin's pr, 52.04.
However, leading off the 400 medley relay — won by Stanford –Coughlin blasted to a 52.40 100 back clocking. The time broke the American record of 52.47 by former Cardinal Catherine Fox from the 1999 NCAAs in Athens, GA. The U.S. Open-NCAA record is 52.37 by ex-Golden Bear Marylyn Chiang, a Canadian Olympian, from that same race. When Fox went that 52.47 her 50 split was 25.45, while Chiang's was 25.48. Coughlin was out in 25.53 but got home a tad quicker for the record.
This evening Coughlin got the what had been the second-oldest American record on the books, the 1:52.98 200 back standard by Texas' Whitney Hedgepeth from the 1992 NCAAs at her home pool in Austin.
Tonight in the 200 back Coughlin set a torrid pace from the start, clocking 26.51 for her first 50 and 54.80 for the 100. By contrast, Hedgepeth was out in 27.31-55.89, so Coughlin had a full-second advantage at the century mark. Pressing on regardless, she hit the 150 mark in 1:23.65 while Hedgepeth clocked 1:24.76. Coughlin's final 50 was a 29.08 while Hedgepeth got home in 28.22.
Interestingly, runner-up in the 200 back was Arizona's Beth Botsford in 1:56+. Botsford, of course, was Atlanta Olympic gold medalist in the 100 back while still a ninth grader!
Coughlin's previous 200 back pr was a 1:53.45 she swam as a 16-year-old during the Southern California Winter Invitational in Las Vegas in December of 1998.
Hyman, who lost to Coughlin in the 100 fly during the Cal-Stanford dual in Berkeley a few weeks ago, made sure that outcome would not occur again here as she swam a Pac-10 meet-record and nation-leading 51.83 to Coughlin's pr (and 17-18 NAG record) 52.04.
Hyman also won the 100 back Friday evening with a pr 53.52 — an event Coughlin opted not to swim but could still do so at NCAAs.
Tonight Hyman showed her heels to the field in the 200 fly with a nation-leading 1:55.25. At the NCAAs in Long Island she'll be after the American 100 fly record of 51.07 by ex-Cardinal Jenny Thompson from the Kerr-McGee Invitational in Oklahome City three years ago; and the American-NCAA records in the 200 fly too.
Hyman holds the NCAA 100 fly standard (51.34 from '98 NCAAs) but was beaten for the title the last two years by Nevada's now-graduated Limin Liu. The 200 fly American record — the oldest on the books — belongs to Mary T. Meager with her 1:52.99 from the U.S. Nationals at Harvard 20 years ago. Liu has the NCAA record of 1:53.36, swum en route to the 1999 national collegiate title at Athens where Hyman was second (1:53.60).
Cardinal froshwoman Tara Kirk just missed her 100 breast pr (59.51 from the Cal dual) with a 59.58 century win and tonight raced to a pr, nation-leading and Pac-10 200 record 2:08.54. She also collected a pair of additional golds as part of both winning medley relays.
The American-NCAA records in the breaststrokes are 59.05-2:07.66 by Georgia's Kristy Kowal, silver medalist at Sydney in the 200 breast and NCAA Woman of the Year. Experts predict both will be in jeopardy at the NCAAS on Long Island in a few weeks.
Foschi stroked to an easy 16:05.68 mile win with USC's Asa Sunderland second (16:29.21). Cal's Haley Cope added the 100 free title to her 50 win opening day with a pr 49.27, but even her heroics — not to mention Coughlin's — were not enough to prevent the Golden Bears dropping to fifth overall from their runner-up spot last season.
1. Arizona 1,229.5
2. UCLA 1,130
3. USC 1,099.5
4. Stanford 1,033.5
5. California 942.5
6. Arizona St. 784
7. Washington St. 432
8. Washington 365
9. Oregon St. 285