The competition starts Thursday morning at the Purdue University Boilermaker Aquatic Center and runs through Saturday night. The Tigers are not entering the meet as favorites, but have the talent, experience and depth to make another run at the title.
Auburn's most decorated senior, triple Olympic medal winner Kirsty Coventry, says her class is hoping to go out in style. "We are really, really excited about this meet," she says.
For the Tigers to repeat as champions, they will have to swim at a very high level because SEC rival Georgia comes into the event as the favorite. The Lady Bulldogs defeated Auburn head to head in a dual meet earlier this season, but the Tigers were outstanding at the SEC Championships in Gainesville, Fla., and defended their conference title at that competition.
"It's all about the team focusing and hopefully going out with a big bang," Coventry says. "I am excited, but at the same time there is a bit of a mixed feeling because I am going to miss the team a lot."
The Tigers will take 18 swimmers to the NCAA meet, a place where no Auburn competitor has had more success than Margaret Hoelzer, a senior from Huntsville. She already has six NCAA relay/individual NCAA titles from her first three seasons and she is looking to add to that total.
Hoelzer says she likes this year's Auburn team. "It has its own personality to be for sure," she says. "One of the biggest things I see this year, which I haven't seen since my freshman year, is the team unity.
"My freshman year there were 11 girls and now there are 18 of us. We have done a much better job this year of coming together as a team and bonding, and really caring about each other and just uniting that much more than we have in a while. I think that is the biggest difference."
Margaret Hoelzer celebrates winning her race at the 2004 NCAA Championships.
Other swimmers expected to score at the nationals include Tawnie Bethune, Adrienne Binder, Kara Denby Kirsten Hastrup, Jana Kolukanova, Emily Kukors, Leslie Lunsmann, Jeri Moss, Hayley Piersol, Julie Stupp and Erin Volcan.
Kim Brackin, who is the co-head women's team coach along with David Marsh, has high hopes for Hoelzer finishing her college career with a big meet.
"Margaret Hoelzer has been one of the most dependable athletes, certainly since I have been here, that I have had the pleasure to coach," Brackin says. "She is a team player. She has very strong individual goals, but she will do anything she can to help her team, especially in terms of winning a championship title.
"I know she looks forward to competing at this meet this week with a lot of pride. This is her last meet competing for Auburn as a college team. You can see from her demeanor she is really looking forward to standing up and never backs down from a challenge so she is looking forward to working hard to hopefully upsetting the Georgia Bulldogs. I know that is a goal for her teammates."
"Going into SECs, and swimming as well as we did, I think was a huge confidence boost for our team, knowing all along our goals have been for this meet," Brackin says.
Last year, Auburn was an easy winner at the NCAA meet. This year should be different. "I think this meet could come down to one point," Brackin says. "It could be extremely, extremely close. That was what was fun about SECs. They learned they could come together as a team and push through and work as a group.
"It is not just 18 individuals here," Brackin adds. "It is one team unit. I think the team will rely on leaders like Margaret, Kirsty and the rest of our senior class, but our freshman class is willing to do anything. They want to score a lot of points. Our sophomore class has really come together this year and they want to prove something. The juniors want to prove they can be the future leaders of the team."
The other seniors are Jenni Anderson, Rachel Korth and Alessandra Lawless. The seniors have won 12 NCAA titles and 26 SEC events going into their final meet.
This year's Auburn team is strong in the individual medley events along with the sprint and distance freestyle races plus the backstroke.
Georgia is led by freestyle sprint star Kara Lynn Joyce and the Lady Bulldogs are very strong in the point-rich relays with the fastest times in the 200 freestyle, 400 medley and the 400 freestyle relays. Another SEC team, Florida, is ranked third with Stanford ranked fourth and Texas fifth.