Tigers In Great Shape To Win National Championship

Auburn increased its lead going into the final day of the NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championships.

College Station, Tex..--With junior All-American Margaret Hoelzer leading the way Auburn put itself in position to win its third straight title with a productive day two performance at the NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championships on Friday.

Auburn, which led Georgia by 53 points after the first of three days of competition, extended its lead to 121 points with one day of competition remaining. Auburn has 399 points while SEC rival Georgia is next with 278. Arizona is third at 261 and is followed by California with 179.5 and Florida with 171.

Hoelzer set an NCAA in the 200-meter freestyle with a time of 1:56.16. She also swam a strong leg on the 200 medley relay team which opened the second night of competition with an NCAA record time. She also picked up big points with two second place finishes in individual races.

The Tigers are looking to become the fourth school to ever win three straight women's NCAA swimming titles, joining Texas (1984-1988), Stanford (1992-1996) and Georgia )1999-2001).

"I'm very pleased with the effort overall today," says Auburn coach David Marsh." I did challenge the team to step it up another notch tonight. We are through four sessions now and typically the biggest day for us is coming up. We have a lot of outstanding swims tomorrow (Saturday), but they are going to need to perform."

Auburn's total of 399 points is the most ever for an AU women's team at the nationals after two days of competition.

Hoelzer celebrates a victory on Friday night in College Station. (Photo by Glen Johnson)

Auburn and Hoelzer picked up their first first-place finish of the meet in the first event, swimming to a new NCAA and U.S. Open Record in the 200 medley relay. Jenni Anderson led off the record-setting relay with a 27.94 split on the backstroke leg. She was followed by Laura Swander's 31.23 on the breaststroke leg.

Hoelzer took over next and trimmed the AU deficit to .18 seconds behind Stanford after her 25.67 butterfly split, which was the fastest in the field by .62 seconds. Eileen Coparropa did the rest as the senior sprinted to a 24.18 freestyle split and the record at 1:49.02, holding off Kara Lynn Joyce of Georgia, who split 24.07 as the Bulldogs clocked a 1:49.20 to place second. Stanford finished third at 1:49.80.

"Going into the relay I knew that this morning I messed up my start and break-out a little," Anderson said of her leadoff leg. "I knew I wanted to have a clean start, a clean breakout and be as fast as I was this morning. It's a 50 so you ‘really think too much.

"(The race) was coming down to the wire and we knew that if Eileen came off the blocks before Kara Lynn (Joyce), she was not going to let her have it. After Eileen got out ahead early, we saw her coming down the home stretch and we were just very excited."

The title in the 200 medley relay was the second in a row for the Tigers in that event and the fourth time AU has won the event at the national championships in school history (2003, 1997, 1994).

The Tigers successfully defended their title in the 200 freestyle, but this time it was Hoelzer, who was seeded seventh and raced in lane one, taking the crown with a NCAA-record time of 1:56.16. She had the fastest split on every leg in the field but the last and was the lone swimmer to have every split under 30 seconds. Her time was 1.17 seconds faster than the previous record of 1:57.33 set by Maritza Correia of Georgia in 2000. Hoelzer's record would later be broken by Cal's Natalie Coughlin as the leadoff leg of the 800 free relay (1:55.82).

"This morning I told David (Marsh) that I didn't want to be seeded first because it is so much pressure," Hoelzer said. "I didn't know I would be seeded seventh, so I figured I would go a little old-school with the outside smoke and it worked for me." The 2003 winner in the 200 freestyle, Auburn's Heather Kemp, was fifth with a time of 1:58.24.

Hoelzer finished her individual night by leading the charge in the 100 backstroke as the junior stroked a 58.54 to place second behind Coughlin's 57.51. Erin Volcan also swam in the championship finals, clocking a 1:01.00 to place eighth. Anderson placed 12th with a time of 1:00.56 in the consolation race.

Kirsty Coventry picked up her second runner-up finish of the championships as the junior raced to a 4:34.20 in the 400 individual medley. Coventry was second to Kaitlin Sandeno of Southern Cal, who clocked a NCAA, American and U.S. Open record of 4:30.44 in winning, just as she had done on Thursday in the 200 IM. Coventry was joined in the finals by Adrienne Binder, who placed sixth (4:40.00) and Lauren Duerk (4:41.46).

The final event of the night produced a fourth-place finish as the AU quartet of Coventry, Kemp, Binder and Hoelzer combined to go 7:50.94 in the 800 freestyle relay. Cal won the relay in a NCAA record time of 7:50.94.

"To be honest, I was pretty tired by the time the 800 rolled around," Hoelzer said. "It was a huge race and you don't have a chance to think about your own feelings. You have to do what is best for the team and suck it up and try to take one for the team."

Senior Demerae Christianson tied her career-best NCAA finish from 2002 in the 100 butterfly with a fifth-place finish for the Tigers with a time of 58.75.

Diver Ashley Rubenstein scored a second top-five finish in as many tries as the senior scored a 525.20 in the three-meter competition to place fifth. Coupled with her fourth-place finish on the one-meter, she becomes the first AU woman to score on both boards at an NCAA Championship since Marina Smith did it in 1992 and the first to score top eight in both in the same year since Smith in 1990.

Laura Swander scored for the Tigers in the 100 breaststroke as the senior clocked a 1:08.55 to place fourth in the consolation finals.

The Tigers will look to clinch the national title on Saturday. Events to be contested on the final day are the 1500 freestyle, the 200 backstroke, the 100 freestyle, the 200 breaststroke, the 200 butterfly, platform diving and the 400 freestyle relay.

Day Two Scoring Leaders

1. Auburn 399

2. Georgia 278

3. Arizona 261

4. California 179.5

5. Florida 171

6. Stanford 157

7. UCLA 126

8. Texas 118

9. Penn State 96

10. Michigan 95.5

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