The Tigers are on top with 178.5 points as they try to win a fourth straight NCAA Championship. A pair of Pac-10 conference schools are next. Arizona is in second place with 136.5 points and Stanford is third with 132.
The relay team of freshman Cesar Cielo, sophomore Matt Targett, junior Bryan Lundquist and senior George Bovell made a big splash in the opening event. Its time of 1:16.15 set an NCAA and American record and scored 40 points for the Tigers. Arizona finished second at 1:16.54.
"We hoped today would be a strong day for us," Auburn coach David Marsh said. "The day went well for us, but it was not perfect. This morning I thought we might have a few more consolation finalists, but tonight people stepped up for us.
"It has been way too long since we have won a relay," Marsh added. "It was nice to see us get back on the top of the podium in a relay and it was thrilling for the team. It creates a lot of momentum and excitement for the rest of our team."
Targett had the fastest split in the relay and was thrilled with his performance after making a 17-hour journey to Atlanta after competing in the Commonwealth Games in Australia. "This has been the focus all season," Targett said. "I was happy to come out tonight after my performance this morning and help Auburn to a victory. I had been taking care of myself after I finished the Commonwealth Games last week and it felt good to go out there and compete with my teammates. I just made sure I was as good as I could be today and I was pretty close tonight It just felt amazing out there and I am ready to swim fast during the rest of the meet."
Senior Van Wie said, "At Auburn we take a lot of pride in our relays," Van Wie said. "So it's important for us to make a good impression to the rest of the team, it kind of embodies our team spirit, so we always want to do great on our relays."
Auburn won the 200 freestyle relay at the 2004 NCAA Championships. Bovell, an Olympic medalist, was a member of that relay group two years ago.
Auburn kept the pressure on by racking up points in the 200-yard individual medley and 50 freestyle.
Senior Eric Shanteau scored 16 points in the 200 IM with his third place finish in 1:44.24 behind Florida star Ryan Lochte's time of 1:40.55. Auburn junior James Wike added 15 points with a fourth place finish. The Tigers added nine more points in the consolation finals from seniors Kurt Cady (12th) and Doug Van Wie (13th).
Senior Doug Van Wie competes for the Tigers on Thursday night.
The 50 free was a point-rich event, too. Bovell scored 14.5 points with a tie for fourth in a time of 19.32 in a race won at 19.18 by Cullen Jones of North Carolina State. Cielo added 13 points for sixth place and Alexi Puninski got 11 for finishing eight. Auburn's Scott Goodrich won the consolation finals in 19.58 to score nine points and Lundquist was 16th overall for a point.
"Scott Goodrich to me was probably our best swim of the night," Marsh said. "Moving up is what it is all about at night and he accomplished that."
Scott Goodrich (left) and George Bovell celebrate after a qualifying heat.
All-American junior diver Steve Segerlin came through with a third place finish in the one-meter springboard competition for the Tigers. His 382.80 total scored 16 points for the team. Chris Colwell of Georgia won the event with a score of 407.10.
"Steve put together two really solid lists," Auburn diving coach Jeff Shaffer said. "He moved up a place from last year. His front 2.5, full twist in the third round of the finals tonight really set him up to be in contention if anyone made a mistake. The other two guys just did not make a mistake. This is a great start to the meet for Steve and I am proud of him."
The final event of the night, the 400 medley relay, was worth 34 points to the Tigers as they finished second to Arizona, which swam 3:06.08. Auburn's quartet of Van Wie, Puniniski, Wike and Cielo finished at 3:07.43 while Stanford was third in 3:07.96.
Auburn fans had plenty to celebrate on Thursday night.
The competition will run through Saturday in downtown Atlanta on Georgia Tech's campus.
"I think we are off to a good start and tomorrow will be key for us, as well, as Arizona and Stanford," Marsh said.