Tigers Trail UGA After Opening Day at NCAA Meet

West LaFayette, Ind.--Georgia took a commanding lead on the opening day of the NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championships on Thursday.

Auburn, led by Kirsty Coventry's victory in the 200 individual medley, is second. Georgia scored 211 points to 137 for the Tigers, who are trying to win a fourth straight NCAA title. Arizona is third with 120, Stanford has 108 and Florida is fifth with 96.

"We saw what we thought we would see all season out of Georgia, which was a great team," said Auburn coach David Marsh. "We saw it in the dual meet and we saw it again today. We had a very good day, but not the best day we could have.

"Overall it was a good team-effort day," Marsh said. "Swimming is judged by performance best-times and we had a lot of best-times. By any age-group to Olympic standards that would be a B-plus. Tomorrow morning, in order to have a chance to win the meet, we have to have an A-plus."

Kirsty Coventry swims the backstroke leg in the 200 individual medley.

Coventry won the NCAA 200 individual for the first time, clocking a 1:54.37, the second-fastest time in NCAA history behind only former teammate Maggie Bowen's 1:53.91 from 2002.

Coventry, who won a bronze medal in the event at last summer's Olympics, went out in 26.07 on the fly leg to stand in second-place after the first leg. She followed that up with a 27.79 on the backstroke leg, the only sub-28.00 in the race, putting her in first halfway through the race. Coventry took control of the race during the breaststroke leg, splitting a 33.32 before coming home in 27.19 on her freestyle.

"It was a really good race for me," Coventry said. "I just wanted to go out there and have fun and relax, so that's what I did."

The victory gives Coventry five NCAA titles for her career. It also marks the fourth time that Auburn has won that event as Bowen won the title in three consecutive years, from 2001-03.

"I am obviously real proud of Kirsty's 200 IM," Marsh said. "For her to go the second-fastest time in history in a short-course pool is amazing. She is not known for her walls as she is much better at the Olympic distance so I am real thrilled with that."

The Tigers' title defense started out with a third-place finish in the 200 freestyle relay as Auburn went 1:29.33, finishing behind Georgia's American, NCAA and U.S. Open Record 1:28.10 and Arizona's 1:28.50. Junior Jana Kolukanova led off for the Tigers, splitting a 22.68, and was followed by Coventry (22.12), senior Jenni Anderson (22.37) and freshman Kara Denby, who split a 22.16.

Kolukanova equaled her fifth-place finish from a year ago in the 50 free, registering a 22.43. Also scoring in the event were Denby, who won the consolation finals with a time of 22.68, and Anderson, who was 13th at 22.88

"I thought Jana Kolukanova deserves a lot of recognition," Marsh said. "She is one that has struggled at the big meet ,but today came out and was a real competitor for us."

Sophomore Hayley Peirsol earned the first NCAA top-eight finish of her career as the Newport Beach, Calif., native went 4:44.09 in the 500 freestyle to finish eighth. Winning the event was Arizona's Emily Mason, who went 4:37.11.

The final event held a fourth-place finish in store for the Tigers as AU clocked a 3:35.30 in the 400 medley relay. Coventry took the honors for the backstroke leg, registering a 52.32, putting the Tigers in first after the first leg. Denby had the task of swimming the breaststroke and clocked a 1:02.00. She was followed by Margaret Hoelzer's butterfly leg of 52.53, third-best in the race and handed off to Kukors, who went 48.45. Georgia won the event with a time of 3:33.89.

Kukors earned the first All-America honor of her career earlier in the night, finishing fourth in the 200 IM with a time of 1:57.75. Classmate Julie Stupp also earned the first All-American honor of her career, placing 15th with a time of 2:00.93.

"We were not sure how much faster Emily Kukors could go after conference, but to go a whole second faster again was a great swim and a great sign for the rest of the meet," Marsh said of his freshman.

"We need turn it on tomorrow morning and Georgia knows that as well. We are the ones that now have to make a move," Marsh added. "Mostly we need to remember what we did at conference and make that kind of move tomorrow."

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