By Chris J. Starrs
ATHENS, Georgia, March 18. ALTHOUGH Georgia came into the final day of the 2006 NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships with a 53-point lead, Auburn and Arizona are not throwing in the towel, as evidenced by the results of this morning’s preliminaries at the Gabrielsen Natatorium on the campus of the University of Georgia.
With five events completed, No. 2 Auburn, which came into today’s preliminaries with 326 points to the No. 1 Bulldogs’ 379 points, qualified six swimmers and one relay team for today’s finals, which begin at 7 p.m. (EST). Arizona, trailing both Georgia and Auburn with 315 points, qualified three swimmers and one relay team.
Defending national champion Georgia showed no signs of relinquishing its advantage, however, qualifying five swimmers and one relay team for this evening’s showdown. Jack Bauerle’s Bulldogs have won 50 consecutive dual meets at home and captured the national title here in 1999.
The national championship has belonged to either Georgia or Auburn since the late 1990s. Georgia won the title in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2005 while Auburn captured the crown in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
In today’s opening preliminary event, California’s Helen Silver finished first in the 200-yard backstroke in a time of 1:54.52, besting Kelly Harrigan of Rutgers (1:55.45), Georgia’s Putra Aleksandra (1:55.55), Auburn’s Rachel Goh (1:55.61) and Jeri Moss (1:55.79), Wisconsin’s Susan Johnson (1:55.80), Elizabeth Wycliffe of Texas (1:55.91) and Virginia’s Brielle White (1:56.30).
In the next event, Georgia’s Kara Lynn Joyce put herself in position to win her third consecutive 100-yard freestyle title by coming in first in the preliminaries in a time of 48.31, but Auburn and Arizona seem to be in good position to pick up points with two qualifiers apiece. Joyce was followed by California’s Emily Silver (48.48), Arizona’s Lacey Nymeyer (48.52), Kentucky’s Jenny Bradford (48.53), Southern Cal’s Rhiannon Jeffrey (48.60), Auburn’s Emily Kukors (48.67), Arizona’s Courtney Cashion (48.76) and Auburn’s Kara Denby (48.78).
In the 200-yard breaststroke, Georgia’s Sarah Poewe finished first in a time of 2:11.57, with Stanford’s Kristen Caverly and Southern Cal’s Rebecca Soni both finishing second at 2:11.86. They were followed by Yi Ting Siow of Wisconsin (2:12.19), Auburn’s Alicia Jensen (2:12.37), Florida Atlantic’s Ellie Weberg (2:12.86), Florida’s Vipa Bernhardt (2:13.03) and Auburn’s Lauren Duerk (2:13.11).
Georgia’s Mary DeScenza finished first in the 200-yard butterfly in a time of 1:55.35, giving herself an excellent shot at capturing her fourth consecutive national title in the event, which would tie her with Mary T. Meagher, who won the event from 1983-86. DeScenza, who came into today’s event with three titles in this championship and 11 crowns overall, was followed by Arizona’s Whitney Myers (1:55.97), Kimberly Vandenberg of UCLA (1:56.57), California’s Rachel Ridgeway (1:56.94), Florida’s Candace Weiman (1:56.96), Georgia’s Elizabeth Hill (1:57.31), Saori Haruguchi of Oregon State (1:57.71) and Ohio State’s Gulsah Gunenc (1:57.78).
Georgia has won the 400-yard freestyle relay for the past two years, but Auburn’s relay team – Margo McCawley, Emily Kukors, Kara Denby and Jana Kolukanova – made a statement that they’d have to be dealt with as they finished first in the preliminaries in a time of 3:16.54, just a touch ahead of Georgia’s 3:16.57 finish. Auburn and Georgia were trailed by Arizona (3:17.20), SMU (3:17.90), Texas A&M (3:18.70), California (3:18.96), Texas (3:19.56) and Wisconsin (3:19.79).
Platform diving was being held in the early afternoon today and the 1,650-yard freestyle heats are set to begin at 4:35 p.m. (EST), with the final heat set for 7 p.m. (EST).
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