Tigers Take Lead At NCAA Championships

Auburn has built a solid lead after the first of three days of competition in College Station, Texas.

College Station, Tex.--Auburn took the opening day lead at the NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championships with a 53-point edge over an SEC rival.

The Tigers, who are the defending national champs and ranked number one, have 188 points. Georgia is second with 135, Arizona is third with 86, Florida has 84 and Stanford 82.

"Tonight I was real pleased with Kirsty (Coventry) moving up and getting faster as well as Eileen (Coparropa)," Auburn Coach David Marsh said. "They are itching to win events, but the goal is to accumulate points to win the championship. We are going to have to fight throughout the three days to be our best. It is not going to come easy. I think tomorrow will be the real key."

Kirsty Coventry, the top scorer at the SEC Championships, swims for the Tigers on Thursday night.

Auburn's first of three second-place finishes came in the 200-meter free relay. Becky Short, who held the NCAA 50-meter freestyle record for a little over an hour during this morning's prelims session at 24.60, led off with a 24.81 split. She was followed by Jenni Anderson's 24.72, Jana Kolukanova's 24.81 and Eileen Coparropa's blistering 23.74, thought to be among the top five 50-meter splits of all-time. Georgia took top honors in the race with a world, American, U.S. Open and NCAA record time of 1:37.27.

"Georgia has great swimmers, but I was real happy with my split," Coparropa said. "I swam a 23.7 and the world record is a 23.5, so I am pretty happy."

Coventry earned the Tigers' second second-place finish of the session in the 200 IM with a time of 2:08.88. Her time was better than both the NCAA and U.S. Open records of 2:09.34 that she set during the morning prelims session. Lauren Duerk also swam in the finals for AU, placing seventh with a time of 2:12.86. Kaitlin Sandeno of Southern Cal won the event in a time of 2:08.11.

"I was happy with my swim. (Kaitlin) Sandeno was a lot stronger than we had thought, but I am real happy with my swim tonight," Coventry said. Leslie Lunsmann placed 15th with a time of 2:14.35.

The Tigers claimed their final second-place finish of the opening day in the 50 freestyle as Coparropa touched in a time of 24.41. Short was fourth in a time of 24.97 while Kolukanova was fifth (25.01) and Jenni Anderson was eighth (25.66).

"I am really happy with my race, especially my time," Coparoppa said. "I have never raced in a 25-meter pool, and I know that 24.4 puts me in the world rankings (sixth), which is absolutely awesome. I also scored points for my team, and that's what really matters." Christina Swindle won the consolation finals of the 50 free with a time of 25.11.

Adrienne Binder claimed the first All-American honor of her career as the freshman stroked the walls for a fifth-place finish in the 400 freestyle with a time of 4:07.71.

Competing her in her first NCAA Championships, senior Ashley Rubenstein scored a fourth-place finish in the one-meter diving competition with a score of 303.05. Rubenstein became the first AU female diver to score a point at the NCAA Championships since Marina Smith did it in 1993.

"I always knew that once I got here, I could do great things," Rubenstein said. "Last weekend I was just thrilled because I could not only come to the meet, but I could contribute points to the team."

The Tigers closed out the night with a fifth-place finish in the 400 medley relay. Coventry led off with a 59.23, giving the Tigers the lead after the first leg. Anne Amardeilh followed with a 1:08.85 in her first NCAA swim before handing off to Demerae Christianson (58.58) and Coparropa (55.09).

"The competition is great here," Marsh said. "It is at a world-class level. The ladies are improving toward that level, and that is what we are focusing on right now, making one step forward instead of big jumps forward."

Auburn's 188 points is the highest day-one total the Tigers have amassed during their championship run, besting the 2003 total of 168.5 by 19.5 points.

The Tigers look to take the next step in their title defense during the Friday morning prelims session, which begins at 11 a.m. CT. Events to be contested are the 200 medley relay, the 400 IM, the 100 butterfly, the 200 freestyle, the 100 breaststroke, the 100 backstroke, 3-meter diving and the 800 freestyle relay. All events are being swum short course in meters due to the fact that this is an Olympic year, allowing athletes to go after world records.

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