By Dan Mihalik
LAFAYETTE, Indiana, March 17. IT was Georgia that turned heads in the opening event of the 2005 Women’s NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships.
Led by Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce, the Bulldogs ran away from the field and solidified the top spot in this evening’s finals. En route, they also established a new NCAA, American, US Open, and pool record in the 200 yard freestyle relay with a time of 1:28.36, beating the old record of 1:28.74 set by the 2002 Bulldog team. Joyce also set a pool record with her opening leg split of 22.20
In the first heat, Lindsey Smith of Michigan was trailing Dana Kirk of Stanford when the two anchors entered the water, but recovered with a nice turn and edged Kirk. Stanford’s time however was still good enough to get the Cardinal into tonight's finals. Auburn, Arizona, Texas, Florida, and Texas A&M are the other schools that will compete in tonight’s finals.
The 500 freestyle was dominated by Georgia, as the Dawgs placed three women in the top eight. Freshman Elizabeth Hill leads the way for the Bulldogs, as she is seeded fourth overall. Teammates Laura Conway and Anna Miller are seeded fifth and sixth, respectively.
Carly Piper, Olympic gold medallist in the 800 free relay, swam with a purpose in her heat. Emily Mason of Arizona had broken her pool record in the previous heat. Piper swam a smart, controlled race and held off Caroline Burckle of Florida. Burckle was right on Piper’s hip for most of the race, and made Piper sweat a little in the final 50. An exciting final two laps ended with Piper regaining her pool record and finishing first overall with a time of 4:39.71. Burckle is second overall after finishing with a 4:40.50.
Mason, Hill, Conway, Miller, Flavia Rigamonti (SMU) and Hayley Peirsol (Auburn) round out the top eight.
In the 200 individual medley, Kirsty Coventry, last year’s runner up in this event, is the top seed for tonight’s finals after finishing with a pool record 1:56.67. After lagging in fourth place in the butterfly, the Auburn senior made her move in the backstroke and took over the lead in the breaststroke leg. Her freestyle split of 27.49 helped her break the pool record in the event.
Teammate Emily Kukors is second overall after placing second in her heat, finishing behind only Coventry. Georgia is again well represented in the finals as two more have placed in the top eight. Mary Descenza and Tricia Harm are seeded fifth and sixth respectively.
Whitney Myers of Arizona is in third place while Caroline Bruce is only .11 seconds behind in fourth place. Leah Retrum and Danielle Townsend round out the top eight.
The 50 freestyle was a very exciting event that saw Georgia swimmer Kara Lynn Joyce break her own pool record, which she had set earlier in the day. Joyce was the only swimmer to go under 22 seconds, and finished with a time of 21.94.
Yet another event in tonight’s finals will feature multiple Georgia swimmers. Paige Kearns, Samantha Arsenault and Amanda Weir finished the morning prelims in third, seventh and eighth, respectively.
Sarah Wanezek of Texas gave Kearns a run for her money in heat 8. Wanezek finished only .04 seconds behind Paige, but earned a spot in tonight’s finals, seeded in fourth.
Auburn junior Jana Kolukanova is seeded second behind Joyce with a time of 22.25. Stanford’s Lacey Boutwell is fifth while Jenna Gresdal of Arizona is seeded sixth.
Other than Joyce’s sub-22 time, the rest of the field is separated by only .32 seconds.
Two records were set in the 400-medley relay, but it was Florida that set the pool record after finishing in 3:34.87, almost two seconds ahead of second-place Georgia.
Arizona’s Marshi Smith got the Wildcats off to a great start after her pool record backstroke split of 52.83 put her team nearly a second ahead of the field. But that was the only bright spot for Arizona as they finished the race in fourth.
The SEC has three schools competing in tonight’s finals as Georgia is seeded second and Auburn is seeded in sixth. The Pac-10 also has three schools competing. Stanford and Arizona are in third and fourth, while California is seeded eighth. Texas is positioned in fifth while Penn State is in seventh after the prelims.