With the standing room only crowd on its feet cheering the action at the James E. Martin Aquatics Center, Auburn's Becky Short was given the task of holding onto a lead in the freestyle, the final leg of the relay. On her heels was American record holder sprinter Martiza Correia of Georgia, who earlier in the evening had won the 50-yard freestyle and is the defending champion in the 100.
"That was very exciting," said Auburn senior Maggie Bowen, who swam the breaststroke leg to help put the Tigers into the lead. "Martiza is so fast and she is known for running people down at the end of relays. I am so proud for Becky. She swam it smart. She didn't go out too fast. She was composed and got her hand on the wall first. I am so proud of her."
Maggie Bowen got the Tigers off to a good start.
Short got her hand on the wall quickly enough to give the Tigers the victory in an NCAA record time of 3:31.45. Bowen, who also won an individual event Thursday night for the defending NCAA champions, was joined on the 400 medley relay team by Kirsty Coventry and Margaret Hoelzer. The foursome won an NCAA meet relay for the AU women's team for the first time in six years.
A first and second in the relays on the opening night helped the Tigers take the team lead with 168.5 points. Georgia is second with 123 followed by Texas at 114, Southern Methodist at 104 and Stanford at 81. Sixty colleges qualified swimmers to the meet, which will run through Saturday night.
Bowen won the 200 individual medley relay for the third straight year. Her time of 1:55.33 was a pool record and it was also her fifth individual NCAA title and she will be a favorite to make it six in the 400 IM on Friday.
"I was pretty pleased with my time," said Bowen. "I focused more on my 400 training this year so I hope to have a really good 400. I am really happy that my teammate Kirsty tied for second in a great time for her. She got ninth last year and that is an incredible improvement."
Looking at the big picture, Bowen says, "This is exactly where we want to be. We had a great day and we have two really solid days to come. We had some really impressive swims--especially that relay that ended us on a good note."
Kim Brackin, the co-head coach of the Tigers along with David Marsh, said the strong opening day performance should be a boost for day two and day three. "The points should be good on Friday and Saturday, too, although they will be spread out more in the events," she says.
Coach Kim Brackin
Marsh says he would like to have an even bigger lead, but he likes Auburn's opening day effort. "Walking in with that kind of lead certainly gives you a lot of confidence," he says. "The majority of the points are still to be won so we can't take it (winning the meet) for granted."
Auburn started with the 200-yard freestyle relay team of Short, Jana Kolukanova, Erin Gayle and Eileen Coparropa losing by eight-hundredths of a second to Georgia, which swam a time of 1:28.96. "The relay was exciting," Short said. "My roommate, Erin Gayle, is having a breakout year. Jana is swimming great. It is great to have Eileen on the relay with me as she is a big confidence booster."
Auburn added to its point total in the first individual event as junior Heather Kemp finished fifth in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:43.42.
Then, Bowden did her thing in the 200 individual medley, becoming the third person in NCAA history to win the event three straight times joining Martina Moravcova of SMU (1997-99) and Tracy Caulkins of Florida (1982-84). The only disappointment was Bowen did not break her own American record. "Maggie is more of a race-oriented swimmer than a time-oriented swimmer," Marsh said. "I know she would have liked to have broken the record, but she put that behind her and came out and helped us to win the last relay, which is huge for us. She is a great team swimmer."
The Tigers scored key points in the 50-yard freestyle as Short swam 22.11, finishing second to defending champion Correia of Georgia. AU's Coparropa was third in 22.40.
Competition resumes with the preliminaries at 11 a.m. on Friday and the finals at 7 p.m. The schedule is the same for the final day on Saturday.