Swimmers Can Enjoy March To National Championship

Auburn has a big lead going into the final day of the NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championships.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn women's swimming team turned in a dominating performance from the beginning to the end of night two of the Women's NCAA Swimming and Diving Championship and put a virtual strangle hold on a second consecutive NCAA Championship.

The Tigers racked up 389 points and took home four event championships while pulling out to a 127-point lead over SEC rival Georgia, which is a distant second at 262 points.

Auburn Coach David Marsh was noticeably excited about his team's strong performance. "This is just a great night for Auburn swimming," Marsh explained. "Our hope was to come in today in the preliminaries and position ourselves to separate us from the rest of the field, and I think we did that in a big way."

Maggie Bowen has won six individual national titles.

The Tigers started the night off very quickly in the 200 medley relay when the team of Jenni Anderson, Laura Swander, Margaret Hoelzer and Becky Short captured not only an NCAA title, but also swam an NCAA, NCAA Meet, pool, American and US open record time of 1:36.69. The blazing time, which basically left Marsh speechless, was one full second under the NCAA record time the Tigers had set earlier in the year and almost two full seconds ahead of second place Stanford.

"When you lop a second off an NCAA and American record, what can you say," Marsh said. "I couldn't be more pleased for the girls on the relay. It is just extremely exciting for them. They will always be American record holders, they will always be NCAA record holders and that is exciting."

The Tigers then followed up a relay title with an individual one when Maggie Bowen grabbed her sixth individual NCAA title by winning the 400 individual medley. Bowen powered ahead in the third leg of the race and never looked back as she finished in 4:06.15 with Emily Mason of Arizona coming in second in 4:07.07. Auburn added more vital points, which Marsh later called a key factor in the comfortable lead in the 400 IM with Lauren Deurk finishing eighth at 4:17.26.

As for Bowen she went on to finish her individual college swimming career with a second place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke behind now three-time defending NCAA champion and American record holder in the event, Tara Kirk. Kirk swam a meet and pool record 58.62 while Bowen finished with a personal best 59.86.

Marsh said that he was very proud of Auburn's most decorated women's swimmer. "Maggie Bowen's double was extremely impressive. In particular, coming off what she would consider a disappointing time in the 400 individual medley," Marsh noted. "Coming back and doing her lifetime best 100 breaststroke, I am real proud of her and the character she showed by doing that."

Heather Kemp

The Tigers added another NCAA individual championship on Friday night in the most exciting race of the evening. Heather Kemp swam a 1:45.01 which was good enough for the title, even if she had to share it with North Carolina's Jessi Perruquet who came from behind to tie Kemp at the wall. The duo was also pushed hard by third place finisher Sarah Poewe of Georgia who finished with a close 1:45.14.

Kemp, who seems to have a bit of a complex with ties, was quite excited to take home top honors even if she had to share them. "Every time I have finished this race, I've tied with someone else. However, it is awesome to take first place," Kemp adds. "I am always happy to add points and excitement for our team at these meets."

Throughout Friday night the Tigers just kept building their lead with crucial points in every event. Margaret Hoelzer followed up her 200 medley relay title with a third place finish in the 100-yard butterfly final with a time of 52.03. Kristi Coventry turned in a 53.01 in the 100-yard backstroke which was good for second behind another three time defending champion Natalie Coughlin of California who swam a pool record 50.92. Also adding to the Tigers point total was Jenni Anderson who took sixth in the same event with a 53.96.

Auburn fans have had plenty to cheer about the past two days. The meet is a sellout, but standing room admission will be available on Saturday for the 11 a.m. preliminaries and the 7 p.m. finals.

However, the Tigers were still not finished. In the evening's final event the 800 meter freestyle relay the Tigers took top honors once again. The team of Hoelzer, Kemp, Coventry and Bowen swam a NCAA meet record 7:02.72 which is second only to the Tigers qualifying time for the event, which was an NCAA record 7:01.00. The Georgia bulldogs kept the race close throughout but were never a real threat, finishing in a time of 7:05.69.

Heading into Saturday's finals the Tigers are holding a very commanding lead, to say the least. And Marsh says that he is excited that his team can go into the final day of the competition this year without the pressure of being engulfed in a dogfight for a national title.

"This is what the women have been working for all year," he said. "We challenged the team this year that the goal of this program was to be the best it could be, and if they did the we felt like we could be in this position where we could have a sizeable lead after the second day. And I couldn't be more pleased with the fact that the girls are getting to enjoy this process, rather that bite their fingernails all the way through it."

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