FEDERAL WAY, Washington, February 28. TALK about an encore performance to close out the Pac-10 Conference Women's and Diving Championships.
USC senior Rebecca Soni, Stanford junior Elaine Breeden and the University of California's entire team all stepped up.
Led by Soni's flair, the meet was filled with a bevy of top times and capped by a breakthrough team title for California.
Soni, a USC senior, is staking her claim as the top breaststroker in the world. And, Breeden is making a case as the nation's top swimmer in the butterfly.
Soni, an Olympic gold medal winner, took another step toward a bigger goal with a dominating winning performance – one that saw her shatter an American record – in the 200-yard breaststroke in Saturday night's finals of the 23rd annual Pac-10 meet at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center.
The Trojans' star swimmer stopped the timer in 2 minutes, 4.75 seconds and broke the old U.S. record by almost a full second to repeat in the event at the Pac-10 meet. Soni topped the former mark set by former Stanford standout Tara Kirk, who went 2:05.73 on March 3, 2006 in the U.S. Open.
"It was a great meet and a little faster than I thought it would be," said Soni, who was named Pac-10 Swimmer of the Meet. "I'm really surprised to be Swimmer of the Meet, considering the other amazing swims this week. It's really an honor to be Swimmer of the Meet in my last Pac-10s.
"I'm excited about the future, but I'm also sad about leaving college swimming. But I'll definitely be around and watching. I'm excited about our team."
The Pac-10 meet featured some top-notch efforts, including four American records, seven NCAA marks, nine Pac-10 Conference bests and 10 Pac-10 meet standards broken.
Soni, who will go for her fourth consecutive NCAA title in the 200 breast March 19-21, won the 200 breast event by almost six seconds as she left the field in her wake. Checking in for a second-place tie were Cal's Alexandra Ellis and Arizona's Julie Stupp, both at 2:10.57.
Soni's winning ways are becoming habit, but for California winning the Pac-10 team title was a first in school history and the first time since the Pac-10's inaugural meet in 1987.
The Bears, led by senior Dana Vollmer's two individual wins and effort on two victorious relays, won the last event of the meet, the 400-yard freestyle relay to finish with 1,550 points.
Cal, ranked 11th coming into the meet, outfinished fourth-ranked Arizona (1,339) and second-ranked Stanford (1,317). Ninth-ranked USC, behind Soni factoring into three wins, was fourth at 915.
"I'm just really proud of the girls," Cal coach Teri McKeever, who is in her 17th year. "It was a total team effort. Every diver, every swimmer scored. They've worked hard all year. We'll celebrate, but then we've got to re-focus.
"Our job now is to find a way to be better in three weeks [for NCAAs]. That's what we'll try to do."
McKeever credits the caliber of swimmers in the Pac-10 for bettering her team.
"It's definitely a wonderful conference," she said. "Arizona and Stanford have made us better. It's been a fun battle.
"This is pretty special. The girls said [Pac-10 championship trophy] would look good in my office."
Just minutes after Soni's record performance, Breeden shattered the American mark in the 200-yard butterfly with a time of 1:49.92. Breeden, who also set NCAA, Pac-10 Conference and Pac-10 meet marks, eclipsed the standard set by Mary Descenza on Jan. 16 of this year in Long Beach, Calif.
Breeden outdistanced runner-up Saori Haruguchi of Oregon State, the defending NCAA champion, by almost three seconds. Haruguchi checked in with a time of 1:52.81.
"I definitely wasn't expecting best times this week," said Breeden, who won her third 200 fly in a row at the Pac-10 meet. "We didn't even taper this week and we were lifting. I wasn't putting a lot of pressure on myself. I came in low key and I think that works best for me.
"I'm hoping for best times [at NCAAs], but in the past I'd had my best times at Pac-10s. I didn't feel rested coming into this week, but I put up some best times."
Saturday's win gave Breeden two Pac-10 titles, following her Friday triumph in the 100 fly.
Vollmer collected her second individual win of the Pac-10 meet, capturing the 100-yard freestyle in a Pac-10 meet record time of 47.19 seconds on Saturday. Vollmer, who factored in four Pac-10 titles this week, held off sophomore teammate Hannah Wilson (47.89) and Stanford's Julia Smit (47.98).
Lauren Boyle, a California junior, dominated in the 1,650-yard freestyle finals with a time of 15:56.93, more than 17 seconds faster than the runner-up, Petra Radovic of Washington.
Boyle, who was fifth in the NCAA meet in 2008, repeated as a Pac-10 champion in the event as a top seed.
Boyle was also part of two relay wins at the Pac-10 meet — the 800 free relay on Wednesday and 400 free relay on Saturday.
The Bears' 400 free relay, consisting of Vollmer, Erica Dagg, Madison Kennedy and Hannah Wilson, put up a time of 3:11.05 and established NCAA, Pac-10 Conference and Pac-10 meet records.
The NCAA mark bettered the old standard of 3:11.34 set by Arizona at the NCAA meet in 2008.
Washington junior Erin Campbell posted the third-fastest time in the country in the 200-yard backstroke with a 1:51.27, the top effort in the preliminaries. Then, Campbell went on to win the Pac-10 finals with an NCAA-qualifying clocking of 1:51.33, denying defending champion Lauren Rogers a repeat. Campbell also turned back the top seed before the meet, Ana Agy of Arizona, who was second in 1:52.88 and going for her second title of the meet.
It was the Huskies' lone champion of the Pac-10 meet.
Stanford junior Carmen Stellar won the women's platform diving with a score of 257.55 points to edge UCLA's Laura Winn (252.05).
Special thanks to the Pac 10 for contributing this report.