Becoming old hat for the men, the Tigers cruised out to a lead of 173.5 points going to the final day of the event, held on the Auburn University campus at the James E. Martin Aquatics Center. Auburn placed numerous swimmers in the finals earlier in the day and that paid off with a build up of points throughout the night on the way to one of the most dominating performances in recent memory at the event.
"I think our girls are feeling a little tired right now," Coach David Marsh said. "I think the team is a little tired, but that's what college swimming is all about. You have to have six great sessions at the NCAAs and seven great sessions at the SECs. This was a very strong session for our program and to demonstrate, hopefully, their championship heart that will come out tomorrow morning and have another excellent session."
The night got off to a roaring start for the women as Bowen once again proved her dominance in SEC competition by blowing away the field to break a 19-year old record in the 400-yard individual medley. Winning her fourth-straight title in the event to tie her sister Mimi as the only women to have won a single event four consecutive times, Bowen broke a record Tracy Caulkins held since 1984. Swimming a 4:05.82 to smash the second place finisher Sara McLarty from Florida by five and a half seconds, Bowen put her name alongside some of the greats in SEC history with her performance Friday night.
"This is really cool," Bowen said following her record-setting victory. "I'm more than happy to break this record. I've waited three years to finally get it. I'm glad to go out of my last SEC meet this way. I've been very blessed, God has given me talent, wonderful coaches and awesome teammates."
Maggie Bowen during her historic swim Friday night.
Just before Bowen's historic run, freshman Eric Shanteau came through with a solid performance in the 400-yard Individual Medley. Improving his personal-best time by over two seconds, he swam a 3:45.91 to finish second behind freshman Ryan Lochte of Florida with a 3:43.31. The second-place finish and a fourth from Jeremy Knowles (3:47.23) along with a sixth from James Galloway (3:48.02) put the Tigers even closer to their goal of wrapping up the title before Saturday's competition.
"This is definitely a great feeling for me," Shanteau said. "I accomplished my goal and had a lot of fun doing it. Coming in I just wanted to place in the top-three and I did just that. I think I even improved on my best time by a couple of seconds. It's a great feeling."
Eric Shanteau has helped Auburn run away from the competition.
The men continued to put the hammer down in the 100-yard butterfly. Mid-year transfer Fred Bousquet continued his outstanding swimming in his first SEC Championships by winning the title with a time of 46.70, just edging out teammate Andy Haidinyak, who had a time of 46.91. Bryce Hunt also collected valuable points with the Tigers with a fifth-place finish at a time of 47:41. By the time Auburn got to the 200-yard freestyle, the next event, it had built a commanding 100-point lead over second-place Florida. By the time the night the next two events were over the lead would become much bigger.
First the women took their turn in the 100 butterfly. Georgia's Mary DeScenza would set a pool record by swimming a time of 52.43, just ahead of sophomore Margaret Hoelzer of Auburn, who swam what would have been the fastest time in the country this year at 52.53. Finishing fifth was Alessandra Lawless from Auburn with a time of 54.13 while teammate Demerae Christianson was sixth at 54.30.
The men again took center stage in the 200 Freestyle with George Bovell (1:35.30), Clay Kirkland (1:35.95) and B.J. Jones (1:36.94) finishing second, fourth and seventh respectively to build up more points for the Tigers. While the lead was stable at just over 100 points, it would balloon when the Tigers got to their specialty event, the breaststroke.
Before that could happen the women again came through with a title as Heather Kemp pulled off the upset by winning the 200-yard Freestyle with a time of 1:45.11, just ahead of Maritza Correia of Georgia, who swam a time of 1:45.13. Magda Dyszkiewicz finished seventh at 1:48.25 while Erin Volcan (1:50.32) rounded out the field of eight.
"I am so shocked," Kemp said following her win. "I tried to take it out and just hold on. It is so great to be here with the crowd and all the parents."
Kemp takes in the scene following her victory on Friday night.
The men's competition may have been just a formality before the 100-bard breaststroke, but afterwards it was a known fact that the Tigers were champions. Placing five swimmers in the finals of the event, Auburn swept the top-three finishers with Pat Calhoun winning the race with a time of 52.85. Mark Gangloff was second at 53.53 with teammate Justin Caron just behind at a time of 53.67. If that wasn't enough senior Brad Knveven (54.35) finished fifth with Matt Kidd (54.37) coming in sixth place. Following the event Auburn led second place Florida 527.5 to 357 with Georgia a distant third at 268.
Bowen would again show her form with a win in the 100-yard breaststroke. Earning her ninth individual title in SEC Championship competition, Bowen swam a time of 1:00.05 to cruise past Georgia's Sarah Poewe's time of 1:00.51. Junior Laura Swander came through with a strong showing, finishing fifth with a time of 1:01.02. With two finishers in the top five, Auburn built its lead to 460.5 compared to Georgia's 394 after the event. Florida remained in striking distance with 376 points with the nearest competitor, South Carolina, at 192 points. The three-team race was still on for the women's title while the men's race looked to be over.
Fred Bousquet gets ready on the starting block for the Tigers.
Despite a false start from Auburn swimmer Ryan Wochomurka in the finals of the 100-yard backstroke, it didn't keep the Tigers from pulling ahead of the Gators even further. Bryce Hunt finished third in the race with a time of 47.50 while Derek Gibb had a fifth-place finish at 48.11 with Chad Barlow coming in just behind him for the Tigers with a time of 48.79. That gave the men a dominating 570.5 to 404 lead over Florida with Georgia falling farther behind with a score of 279.
On the women's side, Auburn used the final event of the night in the pool to extend a comfortable lead. Sophomore Kirsty Coventry edged teammate Jenni Anderson just .50 seconds to claim the title while teammates Jeri Moss (54.98) and Volcan (55.61) finished seventh and eighth, respectively. Without a Georgia swimmer in the final eight, Auburn built its overall lead to nearly 100 points over Florida with Georgia a close third.
"I won this event last year, but this year the coaches were torn between putting me in this or the 400 IM," Coventry said. "I'm glad they chose the 100 backstroke because I wanted to come back and defend my title. Swimming next to Jenni, who is not only my roommate, but also my best friend, was incredible."
Diver Cesar Garcia continued the stellar night for the men with a second-place finish in the three-Meter springboard diving competition to add to Auburn's team total. Wanting one more record before the night was done, the men's team of Hunt, Calhoun, Haidinyak and Bousquet won the 400-yard medley relay in a time of 3:09.17, which broke the old SEC Record set by Auburn in 2001 of 3:09.70. Heading to Saturday the Tigers led Florida 627.5 to 454 while Georgia was well off the pace with 336 points.
The women closed out the night with yet another title, this one in the 400-yard medley relay. The team of Coventry, Bowen, Hoelzer finished ahead of second place Georgia and third place Florida with a time of 3:34.86. That time, along with the times of the Bulldogs and Gators, were the top-three times in the country this year for the event. Leading the competition with 560.5 points, the Auburn women will go into the final day of the championships with a firm hold on the title. Leading Florida by 116.5 points and Georgia by 118.5, the title is there for the taking.
The championship finals will begin at 6:30 Saturday night. The women will be going for their first title while the men are shooting for number seven in a row. A standing room only crowd is expected for the final night.