Double Champs: Tigers Rule the SEC Pool

Auburn continued its dominance of SEC swimming and diving with the men's and women's teams taking victories in Tuscaloosa at the league championships.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.--The Auburn men's and women's teams both successfully defended their SEC Swimming and Diving Championships.

On Saturday night, the women's team pulled away from Florida after going into the fourth day of competition with just a 16-point lead. Auburn finished with 761.5 points to 706 for the Lady Gators as the Tigers won their fifth league crown in the last six years.

Georgia, which came into the meet ranked No. 1 in the country, was a distant third in the women's competition with 566.5 points and was followed by Tennessee (477), Kentucky (332), LSU (238.5), Arkansas (229), Alabama (202.5), South Carolina (199) and Vanderbilt (80).

The AU women's team celebrates its victory on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa. RHOP is for Ralph's House of Pain as the swimmers honor the memory of the former AU coach who died last season.

The Auburn men's team continued its even more impressive run at the conference championships with its 12th straight title. Coach Richard Quick's men took care of business earlier in the competition and there was no doubt going into the final day of competition that Auburn was going to emerge as the champions.

The Tigers scored 806 points to outpace runnerup Florida, which finished with 712 points. Tennessee was third with 562 followed by Georgia (433), Kentucky (345), LSU (322.5), Alabama (293.5) and South Carolina (186).

"The SEC Championships were exciting," Quick told Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I described it as being like drinking water from a fire hose. The action is coming fast and furious."

Quick added that the nature of the competition meant that the Tigers had to get contributions from a large number of swimmers and divers on both the men's and women's teams. "Florida presented us a strong challenge," the coach said. "We had to have a great team effort to win the meet."

The men's 400 freestyle relay team closed the meet with an SEC record on Saturday night. From left to right the celebrants are Steve Scherrn, Scott Goodrich, Cesar Cielo and Alexei Puninski.

The women's team will next try to defend its NCAA championship March 20-22 in Columbus, Ohio as the Tigers go for a third straight and sixth NCAA women's title. A week later in the same place, the men will go for their sixth straight national title and eighth overall.

With the SEC Championships complete, Auburn's next official team event will be the NCAA Championships. The women will travel to Columbus, Ohio for NCAAs, March 20-22, while the men will head to Federal Way, Wash., March 27-29. Maggie Bird opened the action on Saturday night for the AU women with a victory in the 1650 freestyle in a time of 15:58.27 to give the Tigers an immediate 20 points for winning an individual event. Chelsea Haser added 16 points with her third place in the event and Micah Martindale added 11 points by taking eighth place.

Florida tried to make up ground in the next event as Gemma Spofforth won the 200 backstroke, but Auburn outscored the Gators 62-43 in the event by scoring four swimmers vs. two for the Gators. Melissa Marik finished third for Auburn and Erica Meissner added 13 points for taking sixth.

Auburn kept the heat on the Lady Gators by outscoring Florida 39 1/2 to 25 in the 100 freestyle as Ava Ohlgren and Kara Denby finished one-two for the Tigers.

Florida's Caroline Burckle won the next event, the 200 breaststroke, but with three scorers in the event AU only lost five points to the Gators. Josefin Wede finished third for Auburn as she matched her personal best time.

Emily Kukors comes off the turn in the 200 butterfly she won on Saturday night. She has won eight SEC events in her Auburn career.

The Tigers ended any doubt about who would win in the next event, the 200 butterfly, as Emily Kukors won by a wide margin in a time of 1:54.97. Kristen Hastrup finished fifth and Julianne McLane finished eighth while the Gators only had swimmers in the consolation finals competing for the ninth-16th spots.

Last, but not least for the AU women, the 400 freestyle relay team finished the meet with an SEC record time of 3:13.09 as Ohlgren, Marik, Kukors and Denby won by almost three seconds over Tennessee with Florida taking third place.

The men's team closed the meet in style, too, by matching the women's team. Cesar Cielo, Scott Goodrich, Steve Scheren and Alexei Puninski wrapped up the meet with an SEC record time of 2:50.49 in the 400 freestyle relay. Nobody came close as the Tigers led Tennessee by almost a full three seconds while Florida took third.

The Tigers won the 400 freestyle relay for the 13th time and fifth time in the past six seasons.

Cesar Cielo looks at the clock after breaking his own SEC record in the 100 freestyle.

Earlier in the evening Cielo and Puninski finished one-two in the 100 freestyle as Cielo, a junior, broke his own SEC record with a time of 41.78 while Puninski finished in 42.71. With that win, Cielo has now won 16 SEC championships and passes Fred Bousquet as Auburn's all-time record holder for winning SEC events.

For Auburn's Quick, who is in his second run as head coach of the Tigers, the wins are his 21st and 22nd conference championships, but his first two at Auburn. He previously coached at AU from 19780-82. In 1980 his Tigers were second, three points behind Florida.

"It has been an exciting year and I think both the men's and women's teams have done awesome this year with the acceptance of me, coming off of the great coach in David Marsh," says Quick. "Hopefully, the transition hasn't been too hard on them."

Quick says he believes both the men's and women's teams have improved this season.

"I think both teams have grown through the year," says Quick. "Earlier in the season, the men lost a dual meet to Tennessee pretty badly, but at that time we had a decision to make as a team and they made the right decision to work and improve.

"The women lost to Florida earlier this year, but you can see the competitive attitude they have. Our women have been behind this whole meet until (Friday) night, they just have a never give up attitude and it's an honor to be a part of that."

In the four days of competition in Tuscaloosa, Auburn's men won 10 SEC individual titles and broke five SEC records. The Tigers took their 13th team title in the past 15 years.

The women's team won nine SEC titles and with breaking six SEC records. The highlight of the meet for the women came in the opening night as the team of Ava Ohlgren, Caitlin Geary, Melissa Marik and Emily Kukors set a new American and NCAA record in the 800 freestyle relay.

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