INDIANAPOLIS – Auburn claimed its record-tying ninth all-time title in the 200-yard freestyle relay and set a school record in the 500 freestyle to kick off the NCAA Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships on Thursday night at the IUPUI Natatorium.
Kyle Owens celebrates 200-yard freestyle relay title/Todd Van Emst photo
The title-winning team was made up of Marcelo Chierighini, James Disney-May, TJ Leon and Kyle Owens.
The Tigers were in third place with 112.5 points after the first night of competition, which saw four Auburn individuals and two relay teams combine for 12 All-America honors. Michigan held the first-day lead with 153 points, followed by California with 123.5.
“That was really something that we wanted to do, start the meet off on the right foot,” Auburn coach Brett Hawke said. “(The relay win) really set the tone and gave the guys a lot of confidence. Most everybody moved up tonight, and it was just a really good night for Auburn swimming. We had great energy before the first race; the guys were so locked in and so focused."
Auburn swam nearly a perfect race with reaction times on all three relay exchanges at 0.15 seconds or less. Chierighini built up a huge lead for Auburn with a leadoff leg of 18.99 seconds, followed by a blistering 18.87 from Disney-May. USC’s Morozov pulled the Trojans nearly even with his record third leg, but a blazing 18.56 from Owens put the race out of reach.
Chierighini earned his highest-ever finish in the 50 freestyle later in the meet, finishing as the runner-up with a time of 18.99 behind USC’s Morozov, whose 18.63 was the third-fastest time in history. Disney-May swam in the championship final for the first time, tying for seventh place with a time of 19.58; his 19.43 in the preliminary was a personal-best.
Junior Zane Grothe lowered his own Auburn record in the 500 freestyle for the third time in as many NCAA Championship meets with a personal-best time of 4:14.44, dropping a full second from his time at the SEC Championships and .98 seconds off his previous best, which he swam at last year’s NCAA meet. Grothe’s swim was good for seventh place in the championship final.
“I was glad I got a chance to race those guys again,” Grothe said. “This morning I tried a new strategy, and it kind of crashed and burned. But I went in tonight with a more relaxed attitude, and that helped me focus on my technique and give the effort I needed to. It felt good tonight.”
“Great swim. He dropped a full second off his best time,” Auburn associate head coach Frank Bradley said. “Being in a really fast field, we’ll take seventh place. He seems to like that outside lane, but anywhere you put him, he’s a racer. In a field like that, you’ve got eight great guys, so it doesn’t matter what lane you’re in.”
The 400 medley relay team of Owens, Stuart Ferguson, Arthur Mendes and Chierighini put a cap on the night with a fifth-place finish. Auburn posted a time of 3:05.65, bookended by a 46.02 backstroke split from Owens and 41.27 freestyle leg from Chierighini.
Junior John Santeiu also contributed points to the Tigers’ effort with a 13th-place finish in the 1-meter diving consolation final. He posted a score of 333.65 in his first NCAA scoring opportunity and earned his first career All-America honor.