NCAA Champs: Swimmers Put the Bite on Dawgs

The Auburn Tigers rallied for a thrilling finish and their fourth women's NCAA swimming title.

Athens, Ga.--Auburn rallied on day three of the NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championships to upset No. 1 ranked defending national champion Georgia in the home pool of the Lady Bulldogs.

The victory is the fourth NCAA title for the Auburn women who finished first in 2002, 2003, 2004 and second in 2005.

The Tigers had to overcome a 53-point deficit to Georgia going into the final day. Auburn had 323 points to 376 for the host school. UGA was ranked No. 1 in the polls from the start to finish of the season and edged Auburn for the SEC title.

Auburn pulled out a razor-thin margin of victory by scoring 518.5 points to 515.5 for Georgia and 415 for Arizona.

The Tigers got a big assist from Arizona in the final event as the Wildcats won the 400 freestyle relay in an NCAA record time of 3:12.77.

Auburn led by five points going into that event and a win by Georgia would have meant a championship for the Bulldogs, who got 34 points for second place with a time of 3:13.38 instead of 40 points for winning a relay.

"That was thrilling, what a way to finish," Marsh said on his way to a victory party at an Athens restaurant with his team.

"That was the best last day we have ever had in Auburn swimming, especially from where we came from. We came alive this morning. We had the performances tonight, one after another, and that is what we needed. They knew how hard they worked this year and the passion that (co-head coach) Dorsey Tierney-Walker has put into this team, and the rest of the staff, made a difference."

Members of the newly crowned 2006 NCAA Championship team cheer on their teammates at the competition in Athens.

Auburn swam 3:15.00 to finish third and earn 32 points and the fourth NCAA women's national championship for Coach David Marsh.

The margin of victory was the second closest in NCAA Women's and Swimming Diving history. Arizona finished third with 415 points and was followed by Cal at 415, Stanford at 209, Southern Cal at 193, SMU 161.5, Texas 151, Wisconsin 146 and Florida at 135.

The Auburn men's team has won five NCAA titles under Marsh's direction and will be going for number six next week in Atlanta. The men's team, although not ranked No. 1 currently, is expected to have a solid shot at repeating as national champs (AU has three straight titles) to make it a swimming sweep for Auburn University.

Sophomore Kara Denby, senior Jana Kolukanova, senior Jeri Moss and sophomore anchor relay swimmer Emily Kukors pushed the Tigers over the top in the final event.

Co-head women's coach Dorsey Tierney-Walker and David Marsh watch a race in Athens.

Junior Hayley Piersol got the Auburn charge started by winning the 1650 freestyle distance swim for the first time in school history. She swam a school record and pool record time of 15:49.48 to win the event.

The Tigers narrowed Georgia's lead during the early events on Saturday night then tied the meet after the 100 freestyle. AU took a 22-point lead after the 200 breaststroke, but UGA cut the gap to five points going into the final event, the 400 free relay.

"I'm really excited to win an NCAA title, it's awesome," said Peirsol. "I feel like I could have gone a little faster, but that is still my personal best, so obviously I'm happy about it. From the beginning I knew I just had to stick my head down and go."

Hayley Piersol swims to victory on Saturday night.

Adrienne Binder scored valuable points in the 1650, too, swimming a time of 15:57.64 to take third place while freshman Chelsea Haser swam a personal best time of 16:24.05 to take 13th place.

The Tigers racked up 39 points in the 200 backstroke with Rachel Goh leading the way with a fifth place finish of 1:55.74 and Jeri Moss took seventh in 1:56.11.

Freshman Alicia Jensen broke the oldest AU women's swimming record in the 200 breaststroke with a time of 2:10.81 to take third place. Senior Lauren Duerk was seventh in the event with a personal-best time of 2:12.89. Junior Anne Amardeilh was third in the consolation finals in a personal-best 2:13.73.

Auburn's team depth and clutch performances by swimmers in the consolations helped push the Tigers to the championship.

Eclipsing a three-year old AU record, sophomore Emily Kukors swam a time of 48.52 to take fourth place in the 100 freestyle while Kara Denby was eighth in 49.13.

"The effort that went into this entire year by this team and the trust by the coaches that went into this was unbelievable," said co-women's head coach Dorsey Tierney-Walker. "It's satisfying to get to the end of the season and for the team to feel the reward. They earned it and they earned it the hard way."

Georgia coach Jack Bauerle, who was named national women's swimming coach of the year, said, "This was a great meet. There were a lot of ups and downs. We're so proud of our kids. They are an exceptional team. We're happy for Auburn, but we are so proud of our swimmers. I know they're hurting. But we'll make it through."

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