Americans Win Six Of 10 Events On First Night Of Irish Open

2015 NCSA All-American team at Irish Open
Photo Courtesy: Jeff Commings

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A rainbow that appeared in the skies above Ireland yesterday gave the junior squad from the United States plenty of luck on the first night of day of competition at the 2015 Irish Open. The host nation had a few outstanding performances that included a national junior record and a qualifier for the world championships.

The NCSA All-American squad, comprised of athletes aged 18 years and younger who competed at the NCSA junior nationals in March, won six of the 10 finals tonight, taking the top three places in all three. Only four Americans were allowed in each championship final, while others swam in the “B” final even though their prelim times were good enough for the top 10 places.

Matthew Hirschberger kicked off the meet with a strong 15:29.08 to win the 1500 freestyle by 25 meters. Gavin Springer and Irishman Brendan Gibbons had a battle for most of the race, and Gibbons appeared to have the lead until Springer’s explosive speed in the final 50 meters got him second place with a 15:50.90 to Gibbons’ 15:51.34. Sneaking in for third place was Josh McDonald, who posted a lifetime best 15:50.95 in the first of two timed final heats and missed the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying time by one second.

Katie Drabot, one of the veterans of the U.S. team in terms of international racing experience, won the women’s 200 free with a 2:00.07 with a powerful final 50 meters. She pulled away from teammate Megan Moroney, who placed second with a 2:02.01 ahead of Alex Wooden’s 2:02.88. In the B final, Evie Pfeifer won with a 2:02.35 to earn her first U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying time.

The women’s 50 breast featured a 1-2-3-4 sweep by the Americans. Alexis Wenger held off Olivia Anderson for the win, 31.86 to 31.92. Ingrid Wall (32.84) and team co-captain Riley Scott (32.95) rounded out the top four. The top Irishwoman was Niamh Kilgallen, who was fifth with a 33.20.

After a solid 2:12.84 in prelims, Ruby Martin held off teammate Lauren Case to win the 200 butterfly with a 2:12.69. Case wasn’t far behind with a 2:13.06, while Carly Cummings placed third with a 2:18.46. Emma Reid of Ards was the top Irish swimmer in the final with a 2:20.83 for fourth place.

The U.S. team wrapped up the session by sweeping the 400 freestyle relays. On the men’s side, the “A” team posted a 3:24.54 to beat the “B” team’s 3:27.03 and the “C” team’s 3:31.05. In the women’s race, the “A” team won with a 3:45.49 while the “B” team was second with a 3:49.84. The USA “C” team wa third with a 3:51.86.

Grainne Murphy helped Ireland win three events tonight with an 8:43.37 in the 800 freestyle. She has been a bit faster this season, with an 8:41.99 from the French nationals earlier this month. She was unchallenged in the race, as American’s Kendall Brent (8:46.70) and Lindsay Stone (8:47.92) were second and third with times about two seconds off their lifetime bests.

Alex Murphy dominated the three rounds of the men’s 50 breaststroke today, starting with a 27.92 in prelims and continuing to get faster with a 27.62 in finals. He chased Barry Murphy’s Irish record of 27.26 in finals but fell short with a 27.56. On the bright side, it was good enough to qualify him for the world championships in the event, beating the automatic qualifying time of 27.58, and ranks him in a tie for 12th in the world rankings with Russian Kirill Prigoda. Ian Finnerty cracked 29 seconds to place second with a 28.41, while Irishman Dan Sweeney of Sunday’s Well was third with a 28.73.

“I wanted to get the time in the semi-finals,” Murphy said. “When I didn’t get it I was disappointed and wasn’t sure if I could do it in the final but I went for it again and am really pleased with the result, as my coach tells me ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway!’”

Brendan Hyland had a body-length lead after 100 meters in the 200 butterfly final, and though he faltered in the final 50 meters, he managed to hold off American Zach Harting to the finish. Hyland, the Irish record holder with a 1:58.68, won with a 2:00.29 to Harting’s 2:00.82. Zach Fong, one of the USA men’s team captains, was third with a 2:02.23, beating his lifetime best by a second.

The small team from Denmark got in the win column as well with a 1:50.82 from Frans Johannessen in the men’s 200 freestyle. Ireland’s Brian O’Sullivan held off a late charge from Hirschberger to place second with a 1:52.62 to Hirschberger’s 1:52.64. In the “B” final, American Grant House swam a 1:51.49, which would have been good enough for second place in the final and is just seven tenths shy of his lifetime best.

The 100 backstroke featured men’s and women’s semifinals, and Ireland celebrated a national junior record in the women’s event. Danielle Hill of Larne swam a 1:04.12 to beat the junior record of 1:04.22 by Jane Roberts in 2013. Hill will get the opportunity to lower the record even further in tomorrow’s finals, qualifying sixth. The Americans posted the top five times in the women’s 100 back semis, but the rule of allowing only four Americans in the final means fifth-place qualifier Casey Fanz (1:03.70) will be in the B final along with teammates Carrie Boone (seventh, 104.27) and Alexandra Preiss (eighth, 1:04.99). Taking the top four spots were Lucie Nordmann (1:03.13), Hannah Whiteley (1:03.29), Alice Treuth (1:03.57) and Zoe Avestruz (1:03.58).

In the men’s 100 back semis, Michael Taylor (56.70) and John Shebat (56.90) lead the way for the Americans as the top two qualifiers. Ethan Young’s 57.17 and Brennan Balogh’s 57.64 got them into the championship final. The two other Americans who placed in the top 10 – Mark McLaughlin (fifth: 58.04) and Alexander Martin (eighth, 58.46) – will swim in the B final.

2015 Irish Open – Results